House of Lords
Wednesday, 5 December 2007.
The House met at three o'clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Manchester): the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.
My Lords, there have been no formal discussions with Gibraltar on this issue. The Government have had wide-ranging informal discussions with a number of jurisdictions about the regulation of online gambling. For example, in October 2006, we hosted an international summit on remote gambling, which was attended by representatives from Gibraltar and 30 other jurisdictions. The aim of the summit and subsequent discussions was to promote and share best practice in consumer protection.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply, but does he agree that the rigour of gambling regulation in Gibraltar falls well short of that insisted on by the Gambling Commission here and by the white-listed authorities of Alderney and the Isle of Man? May I urge my noble friend to do all that he can to persuade the Gibraltar authorities of the value of information exchange agreements between betting operators and sports governing bodies, so that irregular betting patterns, allegations of improper interference in the running of events and downright cheating are properly investigated? There is strong evidence that, in the case of operators based in Gibraltar, this is not happening.
My Lords, one case has certainly given rise to concern and my noble friend has brought it to the attention of the House in the past. However, we are not greatly exercised by the regime that obtains in Gibraltar with regard to these issues. It is quite clear that Gibraltar wants to reach the standards expected for online gambling in those areas over which we have more direct control, but we could do damage by leaning on the authorities in Gibraltar too greatly in areas where they are jealous of their own authority. However, we have made it clear that our Gambling Act and our Gambling Commission have set very high standards. As far as possible, we want to ensure that other jurisdictions that provide facilities of which British citizens take advantage operate the same high standards.
My Lords, if Gibraltar is less rigorous and effective than this country, will the Minister assure us that children will be as well protected, which was the intention of encouraging gambling organisations to register in this country? This is a vital area.
My Lords, that it is an important consideration of our gambling legislation and the Gambling Commission. I assure the noble Baroness that we have no anxieties on that score as far as Gibraltar is concerned. If we did, it might be necessary for additional action to be taken. We should recognise that the Gibraltar authorities have the advantage of someone who is closely connected with the Gambling Commission in this country and who is therefore more than well equipped to advise them on the standards that they need to obtain.
My Lords, following those remarks, does the Minister agree that Gibraltar has self-interest in firm and strong regulation? It is hard to believe that it would not be keen for such regulation, because it derives considerable economic benefit from having these sorts of operations. Can we do anything to encourage Gibraltar to strengthen those areas highlighted by the noble Lord who asked the Question? We can help it with what knowledge we have gathered to maintain its integrity and its tax base, which is pretty irresistible to the companies that want to go there.
My Lords, as I indicated in my original Answer, Gibraltar attended our summit meeting on these issues and therefore was able to participate in proceedings that emphasised the standards that we have set. As the noble Viscount rightly said, Gibraltar has a very small domestic market. Therefore, if it is going to be successful with its gambling regime, it must attract punters from other European states. Obviously there is an affinity as far as the United Kingdom is concerned. Gibraltar is not going to get people using its online gambling facilities if there are doubts about the standards that obtain. It is in its interests that such standards should be as high as possible.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that, as there is ample evidence that offshore online bookmakers are not taking steps to validate the age of gamblers applying for credit lines, they should be brought legitimately within the compass of British law, without breaching EC law, by being banned from advertising in the UK markets?
My Lords, only certain online areas are able to advertise in the United Kingdom, so we can to some degree limit that in any case. The noble Lord is right. If we had great anxiety about children being brought within the framework of online gambling and if we thought that the processes did not stand up to proper scrutiny, we would want to explore those issues further. Although online gambling is a significant new development, it still represents a very small percentage of gambling. The Gambling Act and the Gambling Commission have appropriate regulation for this country and we set out to set standards for others who seek to encourage people to gamble from this country.
No, my Lords, I do not think that that is the case. There has been a levy on British-based bookmakers to contribute to racing, which has been an important part of the development of racing in this country for a long time. The noble Baroness will be all too well aware that that arrangement has been the subject of intensive discussion over recent months and the issues are not resolved at this point in time. However, I do not think that I can bring Gibraltar within that framework.
My Lords, that is a most interesting point. I asked a series of questions of civil servants, but I did not think of that one. Let me make the point pretty obvious. I should have thought that, if an online provider is not having his debts fulfilled because the person at the other end is not of a legal age to be sued, the obvious conclusion that he would draw is that he had better ensure that there are regulations to make sure that such debts can be fulfilled. From my experience, bookmakers are very careful to make sure that people can honour their commitments.
My Lords, we published our response to the public consultation Convicting Rapists and Protecting Victims last week. We intend to legislate when parliamentary time allows to strengthen the law on first complaint evidence and special measures for witnesses in court, as well as taking forward a wide range of other non-legislative measures to combat rape.
My Lords, why is it that the conviction rate for rape in New Zealand is four times—I repeat, for the benefit of the sisters: four times—the rate in the United Kingdom? Could the answer be that New Zealand has two separate offences: sexual violation and aggravated sexual violation? Why do the Government not reconsider the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, during proceedings on the Sexual Offences Bill in 2003, which would have adopted within the United Kingdom the New Zealand system and, in the view of many, would have led to a substantial increase in the number of convictions?
My Lords, there is clear concern about the low conviction rate in this country, which, according to the latest figure I have, is 5.7 per cent. As for New Zealand, clearly the Government will always look at international experience. I am aware of the New Zealand system. My noble friend is right to say that there are two different crimes. However, I have to say to him that the Government do not plan to adopt the New Zealand model, which we think creates the risk of a two-tier offence. Rape can be extremely traumatic, whatever the circumstances, even when none of the circumstances applies relating to aggravated sexual violence. That is particularly the case when the offender is in a position of trust; for example, with a partner.
My Lords, it is very difficult to give a concrete answer to the noble and learned Lord. Certainly, there has been a slight increase in the conviction rate and more victims are coming forward. There is no doubt that we need to do more and we hope that our response last week to the consultation will help. But it is also clear that a lot more needs to be done in relation to the performance of the police and the Crown Prosecution Service and in encouraging victims of rape to come forward.
My Lords, can the noble Lord help me regarding the Minister responsible for criminal law policy in this respect? I am rather anxious that at one stage it looked as though the law officers might be responsible. It is important that the law officers are law officers and that responsibility for the policy on the substantive criminal law should rest with the Home Secretary.
My Lords, that is a very interesting point. The noble and learned Lord will know that there is a consultation on the role of the Attorney-General, who, I am sure, will take that point into account. Clearly, when it comes to criminal justice matters there is responsibility across government. The Home Office has a vital role to play in that, particularly in its relationship to the work of the police, but other parts of government also have a role.
My Lords, is not the answer to the question of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, that there has been no significant difference in the conviction rate under the Sexual Offences Act 2003? Is it not time that the noble Lord revisited the amendments that I put forward at that stage to adopt the much more successful New Zealand model? That would result in many more people being brought to book for the crimes that they had committed.
My Lords, I made no claim in responding to the noble and learned Lord. We are presented with a major challenge in relation to the conviction rate, which is very low indeed. On New Zealand, all I would say to the noble Lord is that I have already given the Government’s response. Of course we will continue to look at experience in other countries, but our law on rape was developed following five years of extensive consultation and there was widespread agreement on all sides of the House. It is not just a question of the law, but of how the various authorities involved do their jobs effectively at local level.
My Lords, I am not sure what my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours meant when he referred to “the sisters”, but I was one of the women who took part in the debate on sexual offences last week and I mentioned the New Zealand experience. When I was there, I found that the difference in the conviction rate was not so much to do with the difference in the law but with the difference in attitude in New Zealand, where women who complain of rape are not immediately judged on their sexual history or their dress or on how much they had been drinking.
My Lords, that is a very important matter. There is no doubt that we have a problem with the perception of rape among some members of the public. Figures show, for example, that a third of the population believes that women are partially or totally responsible if they behave flirtatiously. There are other aspects, too, where public perception needs to be changed. That matter was the subject of the consultation document response published last week. Clearly, much needs to be done in public education.
Revenue and Customs: Data Loss
asked Her Majesty’s Government:
Further to the Statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 20 November about the loss of data by HM Revenue and Customs, whether any further details have come to light over the loss of the data; and whether any more files containing confidential personal information are unaccounted for.
My Lords, the police continue to have no reason to believe that the child benefit data have fallen into the wrong hands. On 20 November, the Chancellor announced an independent review of HMRC’s data-handling procedure to be conducted by Kieran Poynter, the chair of PricewaterhouseCoopers.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply but since the Chancellor made his Statement two weeks ago, we have heard that both the banks and the National Audit Office have publicly disagreed with his version of events. We now know that none of the data was encrypted and that the letters of apology that were subsequently sent contained confidential information, with some being sent to the wrong addresses; worst of all, the disks have not been found. Does the Minister agree that it would be difficult to find a more comprehensive example of incompetence?
My Lords, the Chancellor made it clear in his Statement how much he regretted this grievous error in data-handling by the department. However, the noble Baroness will recognise that the Government have put in hand procedures to guarantee that it does not happen again, and that is the issue about which the nation is exercised.
My Lords, we have lessons to learn and that is why Kieran Poynter is to produce a report, which the Chancellor will bring to the attention of the other place. However, a new three-step procedure has already been established for staff who handle requests for bulk data transfers. Transfers take place only when, in addition to being lawful, they are absolutely necessary, when written authorisation has been given by a senior manager and when clear instructions have been given regarding the appropriate standard of protection for the transfer. The Government have already taken that appropriate action in response to this grievous mistake.
My Lords, the Minister may be aware of the “Panorama” programme on Friday last week in which a professor of computing at Cambridge said, “We have warned the Government repeatedly that if you have a very large database with a very large number of people having access to it, it is not a question of if but when there will be a breach of security”. Is that not a lesson which the Government should have learnt and which they should not have to relearn now?
My Lords, I am glad that the noble Earl is able to be so categorical about these issues in advance of the report which is being prepared for the Chancellor and which we shall all have the opportunity to discuss. However, if the burden of the noble Earl’s contribution is that the Government should cease to use computers and data collection extensively, how does he think that administration will be carried on in this country?
My Lords, following this debacle, can the Minister give assurances that the powers of the Information Commissioner can be strengthened to prevent further loss of confidential information? Does the Minister agree that there is a strong case for more shared managed services in the public sector, which will provide both technical and, just as importantly, best-practice management support to prevent further breaches?
My Lords, that may indeed be an important point on which Kieran Poynter comments. The Information Commissioner has an important role to play in this respect, and he recognises that he has an important contribution to make to this debate. However, we should not underestimate the challenges presented by data collection. What is important, as the noble Lord suggested, is that we learn from all levels of expertise what needs to be done and then carry that out as soon and forthrightly as possible. The Chancellor has indicated that by the action he has already taken.
My Lords, has my noble friend seen the extremely worrying report in today’s Daily Telegraph that the Information Commissioner has had several reports from private industry about the failure to protect data? Does it not show that it is not only the Government who are at fault but that laxity in data protection is widespread?
My Lords, other large organisations have had embarrassments in data protection. Nevertheless, we have laws in place to protect the public so far as private authorities are concerned, and the same laws obtain with government departments that handle sensitive information. We have to reassure the public and regain public confidence in the wake of the problem that arose a month or so ago and, as I indicated, that is exactly how the Government are acting.
My Lords, on reassuring the public, the Minister will be aware that, on 21 November, the Prime Minister announced that the Cabinet Secretary and security experts were reviewing the storage and use of data across all government departments. The Government subsequently announced that there will be a Statement when that review is completed. Given the considerable public concern and urgency on this issue, can the Minister give us an indication of the timetable for the completion of that review? In particular, may we have an assurance that, at the very least, an interim Statement will be made before the House rises for the Christmas Recess?
My Lords, it is a very large review and I do not have a detailed timetable on its completion. However, the Chancellor is expecting at least an interim report from Kieran Poynter on the specific difficulties. I understand entirely the noble Lord’s comment that there are wider issues at stake—there are, and they have increased urgency as a result of this development. However, I cannot give him the assurance that we will be in a position to make a report before Christmas-time.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that, even if these disks have not gone astray, and we all hope that they have not, there is also the scandal that individuals' personal financial details, which were given to a government department under confidentiality that has hitherto always been observed, were sent to the National Audit Office even though the National Audit Office has made it clear that it did not need them? It is important that we know which Minister authorised this unprecedented disclosure. Can the noble Lord guarantee that this will not happen again?
My Lords, the noble Lord will recognise that he has largely reiterated what the Chancellor relayed to the House in October. As for guaranteeing the situation for the future, action is already being taken to increase security of the information. If he is asking me to say that any Government can guarantee that no mishap will ever occur, I am not able to do that. However, I can assure him that we have put in place processes that clearly ought to have been followed when this event occurred. Those processes have been reinforced and re-established so that everyone in the Civil Service is aware of the new constraints. Those are the protections for the information that is given to government. Of course I agree with him that, when the public give this information to government, they expect it to be protected.
Political Parties: Funding
My Lords, the Electoral Commission’s own response to the 11th report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life indicated that it saw its key priorities for the next five years as building its effectiveness as the regulator of party and election finance. The Government have repeatedly made it clear, more recently in their response to the Committee on Standards in Public Life, that they strongly support the Electoral Commission and will work with it to enhance its role as an effective regulator.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that these recurring scandals of party finance diminish us all and diminish our democracy? Is it not time for all parties to return to Sir Hayden Phillips’s report on party funding and put in place a tight cap, some firm regulations and an Electoral Commission with teeth to enforce them?
My Lords, there is much in what the noble Lord has to say. Let me be clear that corruption is remarkably absent from British politics. However, noble Lords will know that all political parties have encountered some problems which have been well documented.
We had the Hayden Phillips work, and the proposals were published in March. There were then cross-party discussions. I urge the party opposite to come back and work through that, so that we achieve a consensus which would undoubtedly be in the public interest.
My Lords, is the Minister not aware that the Conservative Party is happy to rejoin talks if the Labour Party is happy to negotiate realistically on the scandal of affiliation fees to trade unions, whereby if people opt out they get no rebate or if they want affiliation fees going to other parties they do not get them? Is that not the sort of reality we need to debate in future?
My Lords, the Conservative Party’s submission to the Neill committee in 1998 said:
“The question of trade union funding of parties is not a matter of direct concern to the Conservative Party”.
The Conservative Party does not believe that it is illegitimate for the trade union movement to provide support for political parties. The facts are that trade union affiliation and donations are subject to rigorous regulation and that 10 per cent of the affiliated members opt out, so those provisions provide. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that the Hayden Phillips proposals none the less provide the basis for discussion between the parties. I urge him and his party to come back to those discussions.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that more than a year ago I wrote to the Electoral Commission about an election agent being dismissed by a candidate without said agent having been informed and the election expenses having been submitted without the legal expenses incurred by said election agent being part of the return, which is totally against election law? Its reply stated:
“I am afraid the Commission has no current plans to look at this particular aspect of election law in the near future”.
Is it not a disgrace that something as important as election law is not treated seriously by the Electoral Commission?
My Lords, does the Minister recall that as long ago as January the Committee on Standards in Public Life recommended that there should be a strengthening in the powers, resources and responsibilities of the Electoral Commission? This has not therefore blown up recently. Does the Minister also recall that, in that report, the committee wanted to ensure the integrity and public confidence in the system of political party funding and campaign expenditure? While the latest delay has undoubtedly been due to the Conservatives pulling the plug on the Hayden Phillips inquiry, there could surely have been action to strengthen the powers and role of the commission long ago if the Minister and the Government had been prepared to take this matter seriously.
My Lords, of course the Government take it seriously. We had a process, and we have had the recommendations of the Committee on Standards in Public Life. I have already said that we are responding to that. The Hayden Phillips work shows that we are serious in intent; I wish other parties were as serious.
My Lords, on the commission’s powers, the House will recall the Prime Minister saying that the Labour Party is going to return Mr Abrahams’s money to him. Will the Minister confirm that under the existing legislation parties cannot return donations after 30 days of those donations being made, but the commission has ample powers to forfeit those funds? Is that not what the commission should be doing in this case?
House Committee: First Report
rose to move, That the first report from the Select Committee be agreed to. (HL Paper 13)
The report can be found at http://www.publications. parliament.uk/pa/ld200708/ldselect/ldhouse/13/13.pdf
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the House Committee has over the past few months been reviewing the system of internal governance of the House of Lords. The noble Lords, Lord Hunt of Wirral and Lord Tordoff, kindly produced a report that covered the relationship between the House Committee and the domestic committees. The House Committee accepted the recommendation in the report that its terms of reference should be modified better to reflect its role as a non-executive strategic body overseeing the administration. It also accepted the report’s recommendation that the terms of reference of the other domestic committees should be amended to reflect the strategic role of the House Committee.
With reference to domestic committees, I draw your Lordships’ attention particularly to paragraph 7 of the report, which states that the domestic committees should,
“function primarily as user groups, actively canvassing the views of Members and providing a forum within which they can make complaints or suggestions about services”.
If this report is agreed to, these new terms of reference will come into effect immediately. I beg to move.
Moved, That the first report from the Select Committee be agreed to (HL Paper 13).—(The Chairman of Committees.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
Prisons: Carter Review
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice on the report on the prisons review carried out by my noble friend Lord Carter of Coles.
“Lord Carter was asked in early June of this year to undertake his inquiry jointly by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, as Chancellor, and my predecessor as Lord Chancellor, my right honourable and noble friend Lord Falconer. I am extremely grateful to Lord Carter and his team for all their time, expertise and professionalism.
“Lord Carter’s report proposes a large increase in prison building. It says that there is urgent need for an improved long-term mechanism for better balancing supply and demand for prison places. It puts forward far-reaching proposals for a judiciary-led sentencing commission and for efficiency and organisational changes.
“Mr Speaker, let me first give the context of the review. For half a century—from the end of the war—crime rose inexorably. As each successive Government left office, crime was higher than when they came in—significantly higher in the case of the 1979 to 1997 Administration. In sharp contrast, this is the first Government since the war under whom crime has not risen, but has fallen by a third. Violent crime is down, burglary and vehicle crime are down, and the chance of being a victim of crime is now lower than at any time since 1981.
“These improvements are due to many factors: the police; local communities; local authorities; industry; stronger powers to deal with disorder; substantial youth justice reform; and greatly increased investment in law enforcement, with 14,000 more police. In turn, these improvements have led to many more serious, persistent and violent offenders being brought to justice—60 per cent more—and being sentenced for longer. The result has been a very rapid growth in the prison population, up by one-third since 1997, from 60,000 to 81,500 last Friday.
“During the same period, reoffending rates have improved, while the physical condition of prison has been transformed, as has security. Here I would like to pay particular tribute to prison officers, probation officers and staff at all levels. They do a difficult job in often difficult circumstances.
“The whole House is agreed that, wherever appropriate, offenders should be punished in the community. Overall, investment in probation services is up 72 per cent in real terms over the last 10 years. We shall be extending the testing of intensive alternatives to custody, providing sentencers with more rigorous non-custodial regimes. But, of course, the House and the country are clear that prison has to be used for violent, serious persistent and dangerous offenders.
“With so many factors in play, forecasting the future trend of the prison population has always been complex and uncertain. Predictions for this summer over the previous seven years have put the prison population 20,000 above and 12,000 below its actual level of 80,600. But there is no doubt that the prison population will continue to rise over the next few years, given the increasing effectiveness of the system in bringing more offenders to justice. To meet previously anticipated demand, a programme for 9,500 extra places is already under way. An extra 1,600 new places have come on stream this year, as will a further 2,300 next.
“In the light of Lord Carter’s recommendations, I can now announce that, to secure the long-term availability of prison places, I have agreed with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor additional funding of £1.2 billion on top of the £1.5 billion already committed, to deliver a further and extended building programme that will bring an additional 10,500 places on stream by 2014.
“We will act on Lord Carter’s recommendation to build up to three large ‘Titan’ prisons, housing around 2,500 prisoners each. The extra capacity will help to modernise the prison estate, close some of the older inefficient prisons on a ‘new-for-old’ basis and reconfigure some of the smaller sites to accommodate female or juvenile offenders. This building and modernisation programme is aimed to bring overall net capacity to just over 96,000 places by 2014.
“To provide additional capacity in the short-to-medium term, we intend to convert a former Ministry of Defence site at Coltishall in Norfolk into a category C prison, provide further places through expansion on existing prison sites, convert Her Majesty’s Prison Wealstun into a closed prison and bring forward projects from the building reserve list. My department is also actively looking at securing a prison ship.
“On women in prison, my right honourable friend the Minister for Prisons will tomorrow publish the Government’s detailed response to the report of my noble friend Lady Corston. Also, I have today asked my noble friend Lord Bradley to carry out a review, reporting jointly to the Department of Health and the Ministry of Justice, into diverting more offenders with severe mental health problems away from prison into more appropriate accommodation.
“Lord Carter has made important recommendations about the operation of NOMS and the Prison Service to improve the focus on service delivery and offender management. We will streamline corporate services costs in headquarters and regional offices in NOMS and the Prison Service and establish a programme of performance testing.
“Contrary to myth, there have in fact been fewer criminal justice Bills in the last 10 years than in the preceding decade. However, it is inevitable that in this field measures have to be kept under constant review. Indeterminate sentences of imprisonment for public protection introduced in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 have proved an effective way of dealing with the most serious and dangerous offenders. However, as my right honourable friend the Member for Sheffield Brightside has confirmed to me, these sentences were never intended to target those who would have received tariffs of less than two years. Notwithstanding this, the drafting of the legislation has meant that they have been used for very short tariffs—in one case as short as 28 days.
“As recommended by Lord Carter and by the chairman of the Parole Board, Sir Duncan Nichol, we will therefore table amendments to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill to introduce a minimum tariff of two years below which IPPs and extended sentences cannot be given. I want to make a particular point here about sentences for rape. It is very rare for rape offences to receive less than two years’ tariff, and any sentence for a serious offence effectively below a two-year tariff would be open to appeal by the Attorney-General on grounds of undue leniency. All of that will ensure that IPPs are focused on the most serious and dangerous offenders.
“In addition, we are accepting Lord Carter’s other recommendations to align release mechanisms for offenders sentenced under the 1991 Criminal Justice Act with those for offenders sentenced under the 2003 Act. Offenders sentenced for non-sexual, non-violent offences committed since April 2005 are now eligible for release at the half-way point of their sentence, remaining on licence to the end of their sentence, rather than being eligible for parole at the half-way point and automatic release at two-thirds, being on licence to three-quarters only. We propose to introduce a similar regime for prisoners sentenced for non-sexual, non-violent offences under previous legislation.
“Decisions about the sentence to be handed down in a particular case must be a matter of judgment for the trial judge or magistrates. Respecting the independence of sentencers to pass the sentence that they believe appropriate in individual cases is fundamental to the integrity of the judiciary in a free society. However, Parliament has a critical role to play in setting the framework for sentencing and in deciding on the taxpayers’ money to pay for the prison places and probation services that arise from that framework.
“During the past decade, much progress has been made to develop a more coherent and transparent sentencing framework, with the Sentencing Advisory Panel in 1999 and the Sentencing Guidelines Council in 2004. Lord Carter now highlights the need for a mechanism—a sentencing commission—that will allow for the drivers behind the prison population to be addressed and managed in a transparent, consistent and predictable manner through the provision of an indicative set of sentencing ranges. Such a commission would have an ongoing role in monitoring the prison population and reporting on the impacts on the prison population and penal resources of all national policy proposals and system changes. I emphasise that the proposal has nothing to do with linking individual sentences to the availability of correctional resources. The debate relates to the linking of resources to the overall sentencing framework.
“I am pleased to accept Lord Carter’s recommendation to establish a working group to consider the advantages, disadvantages and feasibility of a sentencing commission, which will lead and inform the public debate on these issues.
“Prison is, and will remain, the right place for the most serious offenders. Custodial sentences, and therefore prison places, must also be available for less serious offenders when other measures have failed or are inappropriate, and we must have in place a rigorous and effective framework of community penalties where they are the right course.
“The measures that I have announced today will fulfil our aims in this important area. They will bring many more prison places on stream with agreed funding and a delivery programme. They will allow for a rational debate on sentencing that recognises that, as with any other public service, resources are finite. Above all, they will fulfil our commitment to provide a modernised prisons system that protects the public from the most serious offenders. I commend the Statement to the House.”
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Lord for repeating the Statement. I echo his remarks about those who work in the Prison Service, probation officers and all others concerned in the field. I also offer my congratulations to his department on getting copies of the Statement to the Opposition in reasonable time and on letting us see the Carter report itself in a timely manner. Obviously we will have to have a proper debate on the Carter report in due course, given the mess that the Government have got themselves into in this field. I hope that the Minister will lend his voice to mine and others’ when his noble friend the Chief Whip and the usual channels are approached about ensuring that we get a proper debate on the report, because merely debating a Statement on it will not be enough.
I should also offer my congratulations to the Minister on his sheer bravado in repeating claims about the fall in crime, and violent crime at that, since his party came to office. Can he really say with his hand on his heart that knife crime and gun crime are down, or has his department, the new Ministry of Justice, having taken over from the Home Office, dreamt up new definitions of these crimes that allow them to be conveniently massaged downwards? I would very much welcome a response from the Minister in due course. More important, can he again say honestly with his hand on his heart that fear of crime, which is as important as crime itself, is down since May 1997? Again, I doubt it very much.
I will accept one statistic that the Minister gave in the Statement that he had the honour of repeating—the statistic on prison numbers, which he said were up from some 60,000 to 81,500. We all know that prisons are bursting at the seams and that the numbers are greater than the actual capacity of the prisons. As he knows—this is far more important than the numbers in prison—that means that the prisons cannot do the job that they are supposed to do. We discussed only recently the whole question of meaningful work and training in prisons. The Minister knows full well that it is very difficult for prisons to offer any meaningful work, training or education when they are as full as they are now. If they cannot manage that, I very much doubt that they can hope to play their part—I appreciate that others have a part to play here, too—in preventing reoffending and encouraging those who are inside to go straight when they come out.
I have several questions to put to the Minister and no doubt a great many others will come from the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, who will speak from the Liberal Benches, and from others in this House who know far more about prison matters. I will put just a number of these questions to the Minister. My first question is a repeat of my earlier request that there should be a debate, in government time, as soon as possible on this report and on the whole question of prison numbers and sentencing.
Secondly, the Minister tells us that there will be more places. He mentioned some 10,500 more places. I think that the Government already offered 9,500 places in earlier announcements; no doubt these places will be announced time and again in due course in the manner in which this Government manage to announce their figures again and again. That makes some 20,000 new places on offer from the Government. Is that figure gross or net? How many places are likely to disappear? I think that the Minister talked about there being some 96,000 places in the end, so he seemed to be implying that there would be some 16,000 new places.
That leads us to my third question, which is about overcrowding. I am told that some 17,000 prisoners double up. Will they still do so after these 16,000 net places or 20,000 gross places come in? If the Minister is talking about a total of 96,000 places and prisoners will still double up, that seems to imply that we will not really go forward at all. Perhaps he can assist me. Perhaps I have misunderstood his explanation.
Fourthly, overcrowding is important. What does the Minister think of the recommendation made by the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles, on the scope for increasing overcrowding? Overcrowding is already at a fairly horrendous rate. I mentioned the figure of 17,000. In fact, the prisons are beyond capacity, but the noble Lord, Lord Carter, seems to think that there is scope to increase overcrowding. I hope to hear more on that from the Minister in due course.
Fifthly, what does the Minister propose to do about prisoners with severe mental illness? The Statement says that the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, will conduct a review. What will be the terms of reference and the scope of that review? How long will it be? When will we be likely to get the report of that review? The Statement refers to diverting more prisoners from prisons. I am tempted to ask whether that is another means of massaging the prison figures down and adjusting the number of people who are allegedly in prison.
Sixthly, on Titan prisons, the report refers to three new prisons taking in the order of 2,500 prisoners each. We all know that this Government believe that biggest is best, but I ask the noble Lord to look at the case for going the other way and having more smaller prisons. What is the positive gain of larger and larger prisons? Prisoners will be increasingly more remote from their families and, therefore, have less chance of maintaining family ties during their time in prison. Presumably, while they are on remand, going to court and so on, they will be more remote from the courts that are serving them; there would be the danger of yet more time being taken up processing them in and out of prison for going to court, as well as more travelling time. Perhaps the Minister and the Government could look at the possibility of more smaller, local prisons, whose long-term advantages might include saving money rather than incurring greater expense.
Seventhly, we are told that around 11,000 prisoners have been released early during the past four months. What are the Government’s plans for further early release of prisoners as their desperate attempts to manage prison numbers and reduce them by fair means or foul continue?
I have put a number of questions to the Minister and I could go on, but I should like to ask him more generally about sentencing. We had something of an assurance that there would be no plans to tell judges or magistrates that prison capacity should be taken into account in making individual sentences. We would all like to hear that again, and possibly again. We would be grateful if the Minister could develop that a little more when he responds to me and the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner.
There is much in this Statement on the report. As I said, I could go on, but I do not think that today would be the appropriate moment. I shall restrain myself until further occasions. I look forward to those further occasions, when I shall certainly go on.
My Lords, from these Benches, we, too, thank the Minister for the Statement and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Carter, on his indefatigable efforts in these causes. We look forward to reading the report in greater detail. While broadly welcoming its general thrust, we have some notable concerns.
There are two or three big print issues which stand out in the Government’s thinking on this report. The first and most serious point is the admission of either panic or defeat; namely, that building more prisons and locking up yet more people is the answer. The admission illustrates the paucity of imagination which leads us as a nation to intern more people than any equivalent country in the European Union. France locks up 40,000 fewer people than we do. Even Germany, with a population of 20 million more than the UK, incarcerates significantly fewer people than us.
There is a paucity of imagination, too, in a Statement which calls for a “rational debate” on sentencing yet does not mention the word “rehabilitation” once in the text. While the Lord Chancellor in the other place made much this morning of how the headline crime rate is going down due to locking up more people for much longer, his solution is for yet another body, a sentencing commission, which will provide for indicative sentencing ranges.
The sentencing commission is based on a proposition that guidelines be changed on the basis of capacity; that is, supposedly, variations according to the day of the week. Where there is an issue of confidence in the criminal justice system, it seems that this will serve only to reduce that confidence, not enhance it. As the noble Lord, Lord Henley, said so eloquently, we know that judges prefer greater discretion in sentencing, with fewer centrally imposed targets. Will the Minister give a reassurance that the working party which is expected to review this will indeed be mindful of the need to remove any perceived arbitrariness as to whether a sentence is given down on a Monday versus a Friday and the term which will go along with it?
On prison overcrowding, we welcome the expansion of prison places through the building programme. But the emphasis on Titan prisons housing 2,500 prisoners is worrying. When the trend should be towards smaller, more widely dispersed prisons so that, as the noble Lord, Lord Henley, said, families are nearer prisoners, three super prisons will serve only to distance people from what precious few support networks they might have in the communities. Will the Minister explain why the emphasis is on these large units, given that prison inspectors say that smaller prisons work better? Many on these Benches will touch on that issue but it would be helpful if the Minister enlightened us as to why the Government have gone for those models rather than for the model that we know from research the trend favours.
“a rigorous and effective framework of community penalties”,
which the Statement calls for. However, for a long time much of the research has shown that not only is prison ineffective for short-term sentences but when communities are involved in the debate about community sentences and local solutions, greater awareness of the way in which community sentences work results in a change in attitude among those communities and those involved in rehabilitation. My noble friend Lady Linklater has demonstrated such schemes to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, and I pay tribute to her energy and commitment to this issue.
Finally, there is the issue of knowledge and awareness. While we will respond more fully to the contents of the report in due course, will the Government accept the need for greater awareness of the many successful community penalty schemes which are found around the country? Will the Minister confirm that they should be better supported and expanded to address the long-term rehabilitation of offenders so that they can return to meaningful lives within their communities?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Henley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, for their welcome of the Statement and report, and I thank my noble friend Lord Carter for his magnificent work in this area. I am glad that the report and Statement were produced in reasonable time; we need to ensure that that happens in the future.
On the request from the noble Lord, Lord Henley, for a debate, that is, of course, a matter for the usual channels, but I would certainly welcome an early debate on this issue. I am sure that would be extremely helpful both to noble Lords and to my department in taking forward the proposals and decisions relayed in the Statement.
I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, that I know comparisons can be drawn between the number of prison places in this country and those in other countries, but there is a very mixed picture internationally. Some countries—the US, for example—have a much higher prison population than we do. In general, there seems to be a pattern of an increase in prison populations. I agree, though, that alongside the need for prison and the need to deal with existing issues and projections for the future, we need to have proper, rational debates about prison policy. I am sure that the arrangements that have been announced today will help us towards that. If a sentencing commission is eventually set up in the light of the work done by the working group, I have no doubt it will be able to play an important part.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Henley, that there is no doubt about the figures, and crime is an issue. There are elements of criminal activity about which we are all concerned. However, the figures show overall reductions. The fear of crime is a matter that we have to tackle—and that is being done in various ways, not least through more effective community policing, which is one way that the public can be assured—but we should not underestimate the successes that have been achieved.
The noble Lord and the noble Baroness mentioned rehabilitation. The structured sentencing framework that is provided for, recommended by my noble friend Lord Carter, the assurance that we will get the match right between the sentencing framework and the actual provision of prison places, and dealing with the current issues amount to a good foundation for developing programmes of rehabilitation. We should not underestimate some of the good things that are being done in our prisons, such as the trebling of the offender learning budget and the increase in resources, on which I frequently comment, for the prison health service put in by the National Health Service. We wish to continue to build on those successes.
I am tempted to say I will write to the noble Lord about the number of places. He is right that there will be an increase of 20,000 places, but we will expect a reduction of 5,000 places due to the closure of inefficient old prisons, giving a net addition of 15,000, bringing the figure to 96,000. I am happy to set that out in further detail, but that is the rough order of figures.
On the role of judges in dealing with individual cases, I shall respond to the challenge set by the noble Lord. There is no question of fettering individual judges at all. I am sure the working group will pick up on the noble Baroness’s point. The sentencing framework mechanism that my noble friend has proposed will allow the total impact of sentencing decisions to be pulled together within prison and probation resources, but I reiterate that there is no intent to fetter the individual decisions of judges. A working group, led by a member of the judiciary, will take this forward.
I endorse what the noble Baroness said about community sentencing. We need to do more to publicise the successes that have come about through the community sentencing options.
Prisons are crowded to make best use of estates in time of tight capacity. Operational capacity decisions are made by area managers. They base them on an assessment of safety and the impact of overcrowding on a prison establishment. In public prisons, the current target for crowded conditions is for the number of prisoners held in accommodation units intended for fewer prisoners not to exceed the average population by 24 per cent. The average rate of overcrowding in public sector prisons for 2006-07 was 23.8 per cent. If the noble Lord, Lord Henley, thinks back to the prisons of the 1980s and the amount of doubling-up that took place, he might acknowledge some of the improvements that have been made. The new provision programme will certainly release some of the pressure and therefore have a positive impact on crowding.
Both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness were concerned that the Titan prisons would be very large and remote institutions. My noble friend has said that it is possible to build large prisons and then to split them into units, perhaps five units of 500 prisoners. However, they will draw on the best of design, new technology and support service, thereby allowing us to get the best of both worlds. It is rather like your Lordships’ House and the House of Commons being together on one estate, and the undoubted benefits of sharing resources. I am sure that I will not live that one down—I wish I hadn’t gone there.
I understand the point about local prisons being close to the local community. It is a matter of concern, particularly with the current level of the prison population, but it will be possible to site Titans in areas of particular concern—London, the West Midlands and the north-west—and therefore deal with the very problem that noble Lords raised.
We are watching the figures on ECL very carefully, but 11,100 early releases have freed up 1,300 spaces, and only 3 per cent of released prisoners have been recalled for failure to comply, and 1 per cent noted as reoffending, which was less than the original target figures.
Diverting prisoners with mental health problems is not a way of massaging the figures, as the noble Lord, Lord Henley, suggested. We debated this matter consistently when discussing the Mental Health Act. It is clear that prisoners with severe and other mental health problems present enormous challenges. I am delighted that my noble friend has accepted the challenge to lead the review. Its significance is that it is a joint report, both to my department and the Department of Health. Through it, we will be able to get a much more co-ordinated and effective response.
My Lords, given that when I was Minister for prisons there was a day on which we had only 11 spare places left in the entire system, I extend warm good wishes to the present Minister in the formidable task which he faces. We are of course glad to see the large number of new places—they will assist rehabilitation—but whether one should call something which is very big and supposed to be unsinkable anything that sounds remotely like “Titanic”, I doubt. I wonder whether the Government have taken into consideration not only the advantages to the prison population of smaller prisons, but also the enormous difficulty in recovering control of Liverpool prison, for instance, when there was a riot. How much greater will be the problem if control is lost of the Titans?
I want to talk about the elephant in the room that nobody mentions. Carter reveals that almost 80 per cent of the HMP budget now goes on pay of prison staff. He also says that the system is on a sort of escalator, meaning that it will be more than 90 per cent by 2010. Huge savings can be made there, but the Statement is silent about how they are to be achieved. The report indicates that what is needed boils down, in effect, to a system of staff management that is fit-for-service and purpose, which it is not now. That immensely difficult task has been attempted and failed by numerous predecessors. I hope that the Government will say something on that.
My final point, which I have so often made, is that if but 10 per cent of that money—a few hundred million pounds—could be spent on seeing that children had reasonable and interesting things to do in the summer holidays; that children excluded from school were provided for individually; and that voluntary agencies were set up specifically to keep children evidently at risk of getting into crime out of it, by the time those children were 15, this problem would start becoming much smaller.
My Lords, I welcome the general remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Elton. He has considerable experience in this area, and we need to listen to the points that he raises. I particularly take his point about children during the summer holidays. I know of some good initiatives on that—over the years, I have seen some in Birmingham—but I certainly agree that more could be done, and that we ought to encourage more.
The noble Lord, Lord Elton, mentioned the workforce and was right to point out that the report by the noble Lord, Lord Carter, refers to the size or proportion of the Prison Service budget that is spent on staff wages and salaries. Like the health service, which I know much better than the Prison Service, one is dependent on the staff. Whatever the challenges, some of which we have seen recently, in managing that workforce, it would be remiss of me not to say that we are extremely grateful to the staff for the fantastic job that they do. While the debates in your Lordships’ House are often critical of some regimes in our custodial settings, the fact is that those are very challenging places to work.
I have no doubt that the key to improving efficiency is to work hard with the workforce, and we will clearly have to look at what my noble friend Lord Carter has said. We want a system that really does recognise and reward the excellence of staff, yet is somewhat more in tune with modern HR practice than has perhaps traditionally been the case within the Prison Service.
My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on conducting a review on the need to divert people with mental health problems away from the prisons. However, I ask him to think again about accepting the assertion in the Statement that,
“there is no doubt that the prison population will continue to rise over the next few years”.
That is the core of the problem. On the Minister’s own definition of persistent and violent offending, less than one-third of those presently locked up need to be in prison. Most of the other two-thirds, some of whom I accept should be in prison, could properly be punished in the community. On the point about the staff, will the Minister pledge now to involve the Prison Officers’ Association in all of the changes foreseen in this Statement?
First, my Lords, on mental health, the main thing that I learnt from the passage of the Mental Health Act through your Lordships’ House was the importance of the relationship between the Prison Service and health service, and the need for so many offenders to have effective mental health treatment. My noble friend Lord Bradley has taken on an extremely important responsibility here, and we await the results of his review with great anticipation.
On the prison population numbers, my noble friend has looked very carefully into current and future projections to ensure that we do not have overcrowding but that instead we have equilibrium, which will allow us to focus much more effectively on rehabilitation, reoffending and dealing with the prevention-of-reoffending programmes. I accept that there is a debate to be had on penal policy generally, but the implementation of these proposals will give us a much better foundation on which to have that.
As for the staff, I would welcome the constructive engagement of the Prison Officers’ Association.
My Lords, I join those who have welcomed the Statement and thank the Minister for repeating it and enabling us to see the report in time. I realise that this is not the time for debate, but I shall welcome the debate, and I hope that it marks a new approach to such studies. The last Carter report was marked by a total lack of consultation with people, with the result that we are living with the disaster of an inappropriately introduced system called NOMS, which has cost a great deal of money and indeed wasted a great deal of money that should be spent on prisoners.
I take all the points that have been made by the noble Lord, Lord Henley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, and particularly their points about Titans. I hate Titans and hate the thought of them. The last time they came in they were called “techno-prisons”; they were impersonal, because all locking was done electronically, which broke down the one thing that you need in prisons—the relationship between prisoner and staff. I see that all that electronic whiz-kiddery is mentioned in the Carter report. I hope that we will not have Titans, as they are the complete reversal of what everyone has been talking about, which is to place offenders near to the community from which they come so the community can be involved in their rehabilitation.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that. I am coming to my question—that was my introduction.
My concern is the lack of resources. In particular, when the Minister refers to the production of operational specifications for each type of prison, will he include the proper, responsible and accountable management structure for each type of prison? When studying the existing structure of NOMS with the Prison Service, will he include the Probation Service as well, so that there is proper management of offenders and not the continuation of the present rather isolated system?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his comments. I, too, would welcome a debate in your Lordships' House and the noble Lord’s input into further consideration of these matters would be very welcome. That is how we want to go forward. The establishment of a working group led by a member of the judiciary signals our wish to take people with us.
I have noted the noble Lord’s comments in relation to Titans. However, it is not really a question of whether a 2,500-place Titan is necessarily bad or a small unit is necessarily good. What it really depends on is the essential ingredient of leadership. I thought that the Carter report was pretty persuasive in stating that in the establishment of large sites, it is possible to get the economy of scale and the design that would enable prisons to be managed as effectively as possible, by having smaller units within the larger site. I would welcome further discussion with the noble Lord on that matter.
The noble Lord raised an issue dear to his heart—the regional management structures and the different structures between different elements to the service. I am happy to debate that matter with him. He will have noted from the Statement that the regional and headquarters costs will have to be considered as well. If what he is really getting at is the need for an integrated approach at the senior management level across the various disciplines, I certainly agree with him.
My Lords, the Minister may remember that, from the very start, the Lord Chief Justice expressed grave concern that the effect of the new Ministry of Justice would be that spending on new prisons would impinge on expenditure on the court services. Will he give a categoric assurance that neither the capital expenditure nor the higher income expenditure that will obviously be necessary on warders and so forth will impinge on the courts budget?
My Lords, I welcome the question because it allows me to pay tribute to my noble and learned friend, the former Lord Chancellor, who sitteth behind me. I pay tribute to the contribution that he made to the Carter review and to the creation of the Ministry of Justice. The noble Lord will know that there has been engaging and lively conversation between the Lord Chancellor and the judiciary on that point. I should have thought that the fact that today we have announced more than £1 billion extra to help with the expansion of prisons shows that we have not eaten into any other aspect of the Ministry of Justice's budget, but that new money has been created to deal with this challenge.
My Lords, having announced the £1.2 billion—and we welcome that extra expenditure—has a figure been attached to the extra expenditure on restoration, education and training programmes? Obviously, the success of penal policy is measured in the end by the number of people who go to prison only once, and that depends very much on education and training programmes in the prison.
My Lords, I certainly agree with the right reverend Prelate about the importance of training programmes. We have debated a couple of times recently the whole question of restorative justice. On that, there will be a fourth research report looking at the cost-effectiveness of restorative justice, which will help us plan for the future. There will have to be careful consideration of how this programme is to develop and of the budget, but I assure the right reverend Prelate that matters of education, health, restorative justice and rehabilitation are all germane to taking forward a much more rational approach to prisons and sentencing, which is what the Carter review is designed to achieve.
My Lords, I express my support for what the Minister said about prisons and I express my admiration for what my noble friend Lord Carter has done. He has selflessly devoted himself to a whole series of public policy issues and has produced reports that show real perception. This report is one of them. I also pay tribute to the Prison Service led by Phil Wheatley. The impression given by some of the questioners is that there is a decline in decency and security in our prisons because of “overcrowding”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Decency and security have improved over the years and we should pay tribute to that.
I strongly welcome my noble friend Lord Bradley being asked to investigate the mental health issues that urgently need investigation and I can think of nobody better than my noble friend Lord Bradley to do that.
I also raise a question on the critical issue. Since 1987, as my noble friend Lord Carter pointed out, the Executive have repeatedly got wrong how many prison places are needed as against how many people the judges are sending to prison. I express strong support for the solution proposed by my noble friend Lord Carter. Will the Minister confirm that the lead principle will be to make the punishment fit the crime? However, inevitably and rightly, resources will also have to be taken into account because there must be justice for every other part of government. There are only finite resources for prisons.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble and learned friend. I agree with his analysis of the improvements that have taken place within the Prison Service. Yes, there are many challenges, but I know from my recent visits compared with visits that I undertook as a health Minister seven or eight years ago that there have been some real improvements. I pay tribute to the Prison Service and its partners, such as the National Health Service, for what has happened.
My noble and learned friend is right about the forecast. I am somewhat of a connoisseur, having tried to forecast the number of junior doctors required. I would not claim conspicuous success on that. It is a very difficult task. That is why my noble friend Lord Carter has so eloquently and excellently suggested the structured sentencing framework. It may well be, and I am sure it is, the best way to have greater certainty about future projections. I very much agree with what my noble and learned friend said. These matters cannot be considered in a vacuum; there will always be finite resources. I go back again to what I said to the noble Lord, Lord Henley. There is no question of any fettering of the individual decisions of individual members of the judiciary. I am very happy to reaffirm that.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in welcoming this further insight into government penal policy. I shall welcome even more the Statement, which I believe comes out tomorrow, on the Corston report and how that will fit in. However, I will not ask about that now. Like everyone else, I am concerned about resources and the large amount of the current budget that, probably rightly, will be going on pay. Given the importance of stopping the reoffending of the young offender and the clear pattern of resources and support from voluntary and other sectors that could be used in that respect, I hope that this aspect will not be downgraded in the Government’s thinking.
My Lords, my right honourable friend the Minister for Prisons will issue a Statement tomorrow on the Government’s response to the report by my noble friend Lady Corston, which will be very important.
On the question of reoffending and rehabilitation programmes, the implementation of the report of my noble friend Lord Carter in the way that we have outlined will give us the best foundation for ensuring the best use of resources, making sure that the money for running prisons is spent as effectively as possible and also having the resources to invest in the very programmes that the noble Baroness is keen, as I am, to see developed. The greater the stability and certainty about being able to provide the right number of prison places, the better the foundation for doing all the other things that we want to do to improve the outcome for prisoners.
My Lords, will the review of the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, also encompass the resources available to the courts when sentencing people to give light on the mental situation of the offender? That is a very important aspect of the remit that has been given to the noble Lord.
My Lords, that was very much a point that arose from our debates on the Mental Health Bill. My noble friend is working with my ministry and the Department of Health on the details of the review. I do not want to commit myself to responding to the noble and learned Lord today, but I will make sure that his point is taken into account.
European Council: 13-14 December 2007
rose to move, That this House takes note of the forthcoming European Council in Lisbon on 13 and 14 December.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the European Union’s ability to deliver for the citizens of Britain will be significantly enhanced by the signing of the EU Reform Treaty, which we expect to take place on 13 December, and the other decisions to be discussed next week at the forthcoming European Council.
The reform treaty will settle the EU institutional debate for the foreseeable future. The European Council will, we hope, agree a declaration on globalisation, which will commit the EU to playing a leading role in the development of an open global economy and a free and fair multilateral trading system. We also want to see the EU renew its commitment to an ambitious response to climate change, coinciding with the end of the UN climate change conference in Bali. So taken together, the treaty signature and the Council will allow us both to equip the enlarged EU to work more effectively and efficiently on our behalf and to focus on the policy challenges which we need to address together to ensure increasing prosperity and security in the 21st century.
The first task of the forerunners of the current EU was to concentrate on rebuilding Europe after the ravages of the Second World War. The creation of a “common market” was designed to make further wars between the European powers physically impossible and, by increasing prosperity, to ensure that all nations had a vested economic interest in co-operation. The radical vision at the heart of the developments across Europe over the past half century is a Europe genuinely without barriers. That vision is rooted in the principles which lie at the heart of the original treaty of Rome: the four freedoms—the free movement of goods, free movement of people, free movement of services and free movement of capital.
These commit the EU to ensuring that people can sell their goods and services, set up businesses, move money, and live, work, study and travel in every member state across Europe. This has led to the gradual creation of the single market, the world’s largest trading bloc, which now accounts for 20 per cent of all global trade. It has brought huge benefits to the British economy: 57 per cent of total British trade is with the EU and an estimated 3 million jobs in the UK are directly or indirectly linked to the export of goods and services to the EU.
Britain’s citizens already gain from the practical benefits which flow from Britain’s membership of the EU. So, for example, people in this country can now apply for jobs advertised in any EU country, have their UK qualifications recognised throughout the EU, travel anywhere in the EU without a visa and with guaranteed access to free or low-cost healthcare with a simple health card, retire to another member state and draw their UK state pension there, buy property anywhere in the EU, buy goods from anywhere in the EU with protection similar to UK statutory rights, and sell goods around the EU without paper forms and formalities. These are real, practical benefits—benefits for people everywhere in Britain. But as a country, and as a key player in Europe, there is more to do fully to achieve the original vision of a Europe without barriers, and ensure that it can deliver greater prosperity in the 21st century global economy.
Our starting point must be ensuring that the EU of 27 countries, and beyond, is equipped to face the new challenges. Just four years ago, there were only 15 EU member states, all of them western European states with a shared post-war history. Now the Union stands at 27 members, with a further two, Turkey and Croatia, on the road to accession. For Croatia, membership may come fairly soon. For Turkey, the path to membership is likely to be longer. Nevertheless, both countries will, we believe, be part of the EU.
The enlargement of the EU has brought in many of the former communist states that have transformed into liberal democracies, which would have been unimaginable 20 years ago. That transformative power is one of the European Union’s greatest strengths. This enlargement has been a success for Europe and for Britain. In 2006, British companies exported almost £150 billion worth of goods to EU countries—a rise of 25 per cent on the year before. In 2005, British companies invested more than £17 billion in the European Union—up from £11.5 billion the year before. To take just one example, UK exports to Poland rose by 89 per cent between 2003 and 2006, coinciding with Poland’s accession to the EU in 2004. But in order to make the enlarged and enlarging EU function more effectively, institutional changes are needed.
This issue is not new. The recent debate on EU institutional reform goes back at least seven years and has developed in three distinct phases. It began with the drafting of the treaty of Nice in 2001, which made the first changes to prepare for an enlarged EU. But the countries of Europe realised that this was not enough and that it would not achieve the more efficient, streamlined EU we need as the EU enlarges further.
The next attempt was through the constitutional treaty in 2004. This was an attempt to create a new treaty structure, replacing the existing treaties with a single treaty designed to make the EU more effective, more accountable and easier to understand. However, following the rejection of the constitutional treaty by the people of France and the Netherlands in referendums in 2005, it was clear that this approach was not the right one. As all EU leaders agreed in June, it has been “abandoned.”
Instead, for the third phase, we have returned to the approach of a classic amending treaty. This is very much in line with the principles that the Government set out for a new treaty before Parliament in December 2006: pursuing British interests; a modern and effective European Union; consensus among 27 member states; an emphasis on subsidiarity; making the best use of existing treaties; and openness to global change. The reform treaty will help to achieve that.
I turn to what this treaty will actually do—something that I know the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, and his committee will be assessing in depth. First and foremost, the treaty reforms and streamlines the EU’s institutions. That is its avowed purpose. The preamble to the treaty says that the member states have drawn it up in order to,
“complete the process started by the Treaty of Amsterdam and by the Treaty of Nice with a view to enhancing the efficiency and democratic legitimacy of the Union and to improving the coherence of its action”.
There are several ways in which the reform treaty will achieve that. On the presidency, it will provide greater continuity in the actions of the European Council—the institution through which member states set the EU’s agenda—through the creation of a full-time President of the European Council, appointed by the member states for a period of two and a half years and replacing the current six-month rotating presidency.
On security, the EU’s common foreign and security policy has helped the United Kingdom to make progress on our foreign policy aims. There are many specific examples, including sanctions against Iran that go beyond those put in place by the UN Security Council, and imposing sanctions against the military junta in Burma, while at the same time being the biggest humanitarian assistance donor, focusing on food aid, health and education. In addition, EU military and police support helped the first democratic elections for 40 years in the Democratic Republic of Congo to pass off peacefully; and, finally, EU solidarity over the Litvinenko affair.
To strengthen external action where the EU is in agreement, the reform treaty also creates a High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. He or she will be appointed by the European Council—in other words, by the member states—with the agreement of the Commission president and will carry out the Union’s common foreign and security policy “as mandated by the Council”. This new role merges the two existing roles of High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy and the External Relations Commissioner. Strengthening the European Union’s voice in the world, where we agree, can help better to deliver our global aims in future.
The treaty will also reduce the size of the European Commission with the aim of ensuring that it can work more effectively as the EU enlarges. From 2014, the number of Commissioners will be reduced so that only two-thirds of member states will provide a Commissioner at any time, with every country taking equal turns.
The treaty introduces a new system of majority voting. Under the double majority voting system, a minimum of 55 per cent of the member states representing a minimum of 65 per cent of the EU’s population must vote in favour in order for European legislation to be passed. This will come into force in 2014, with a transition period to 2017. As the new system is more strongly based on population size, the United Kingdom’s share of votes in the Council of Ministers will increase.
For the first time, national parliaments will have a direct say in making European laws—something that I am sure your Lordships’ House will welcome. Every national parliament will receive proposals for new EU legislation directly and may judge whether what is proposed conforms to the principles of subsidiarity. If one-third of national parliaments object, then the proposal will be sent back for review by the Commission. If a majority of national parliaments oppose a Commission proposal and national Governments or MEPs agree, then it can be struck down.
In the light of a question which has been raised about these new powers, I should make it clear that they are permissive. The Government are clear, as are all other member states, that national parliaments are under no obligation to exercise these powers. We have secured changes to the text which, in our view, remove any doubt on that point. In summary, the reform treaty will streamline the EU’s decision-making and make the enlarged European Union’s action more coherent and more efficient.
The treaty will also bring specific practical benefits. Qualified majority voting is extended in a number of policy areas where the UK wants to see more effective action. For example, the treaty will make it easier, by qualified majority voting, for self-employed people to work in other EU countries. Qualified majority voting already applies to the mutual recognition of formal qualifications to help self-employed professionals practise in other member states. The reform treaty will remove exceptions which currently allow any member state to block liberalising rules on training and access to the professions; help companies protect their ideas across the whole of the single market, fostering investment in innovation and research through QMV to create EU-wide intellectual property protections; take action on energy security and liberalising energy markets across Europe, which could help speed up delivery in these vital areas; and release urgent financial aid to third countries faster, by majority voting, as well as enshrine the principles of “impartiality”, “non-discrimination” and “neutrality” for the deployment of EU humanitarian aid.
The remainder of the moves to QMV are primarily minor extensions in areas such as transport, where we already take many decisions by QMV. Several of the new articles which will be subject to QMV reflect the existing practice for EU legislation in that field; for example, for the appointment of a High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The reform treaty will also streamline and speed up decision-making in a number of technical areas; for example, appointments to the European Central Bank’s executive board.
My experience at the Justice and Home Affairs Council has shown the practical value of measures designed to facilitate dispute resolution and improve access to justice across borders. Delays, high costs and the confusion of a foreign system made seeking a remedy in another country a daunting process. For instance, the recently agreed European small claims procedure will make it easier for citizens or business to make small claims in cross-border cases, in circumstances where at present it can be uneconomic to do so. The European enforcement order permits an uncontested judgment from one country to be automatically enforceable in another. That does not represent a revolutionary step or undermine the UK’s own systems and processes. Rather, it allows people across the European Union to conduct cross-border business more effectively.
Nevertheless, however great the practical benefits of co-operation, the UK has always insisted on maintaining ultimate national control in the key areas of justice and home affairs, social security, tax, foreign policy and defence. Ahead of the June European Council, the Government set out four red lines that any new treaty would have to respect. These were: protection of the UK’s existing labour and social legislation; protection of the UK’s common law system, and our police and judicial processes; maintenance of the UK’s independent foreign and defence policy; and protection of the UK’s tax and social security system. These objectives have been achieved. We secured new safeguards to ensure that each of the red lines is fully achieved.
The safeguards were: a new legally binding protocol which guarantees that the Charter of Fundamental Rights provides no greater rights than are already provided by European Union law, and that nothing in the charter extends the ability of any court, European or domestic, to strike down UK law; common foreign and security policy in a separate treaty—express language excluding the European Court of Justice’s jurisdiction over common foreign and security policy and a new declaration confirming that nothing in the new treaty affects the existing powers of member states to formulate and conduct their foreign policy, including at the United Nations; the extension of the UK’s current opt-in arrangements on visas, immigration, asylum and civil law, to cover areas of criminal law and police co-operation; and a strengthened emergency brake, including a veto power, on social security.
I have set out some of the principal benefits which the Government believe the reform treaty will bring, and the protections which we have secured on the areas fundamental to our national sovereignty. With the institutional debate settled for the foreseeable future, the EU also needs to look ahead to address the practical challenges on which our citizens wish to see effective action. That will be the primary focus of the December European Council, which is an opportunity for the United Kingdom to drive forward progress in securing a European Union which is better focused on delivery and globalisation.
The Government set out in October our view of the global challenges facing the European Union in the pamphlet Global Europe. We want to see the European Union leaders agree next week to a continuing commitment by the Union to free trade and openness to investment; to ambitious language on the European Union playing a leading role in the development of an open global economy and a free and fair multilateral trading system; to a clear commitment to the right internal policies to ensure a more effective Union—these include policies on the single market, competition, better regulation, telecoms and energy liberalisation; and to an agreement to establish an EU package, to be finalised at the spring or June Council next year, which shows leadership and provides an ambitious EU contribution to achieving the millennium development goals.
Of course, the December Council coincides with the closing day of the UN climate change conference in Bali. We want the Council to emphasise the EU’s commitment to an ambitious response to climate change and our determination to accelerate the transition to a high-growth, low-carbon economy. At the spring European Council this year, the EU agreed ambitious targets to reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions. We need to show, in ambitious proposals to be published in January, how exactly we will deliver that commitment. EU heads can give that message clearly next week.
The ongoing need for a strong, clear message on foreign policy issues from all EU member states is underlined by the situations in Kosovo and Iran. On Iran, following the Prime Minister's Mansion House speech, we will want the European Council to increase pressure on Iran to comply with the obligation to cease nuclear enrichment activity as mandated by the UN Security Council. On Kosovo, the European Council can pave the way for EU action in January to resolve Kosovo's status in a managed fashion as part of our strategy to promote security, stability and a European perspective for the countries of the region. The Government will also seek conclusions on Burma in support of the UN process and to increase pressure on the regime.
The signing of what will become known as the treaty of Lisbon on 13 December will mark an important moment. It will settle the important debate about institutional reform of the enlarged EU for the foreseeable future. It will guarantee that the UK’s red lines—the protection of our fundamental sovereignty—are achieved, and it will mark a new stage for the EU to move on to focus on the new global challenges which a more outward-looking, open EU must address and deliver for our citizens in the 21st century. We believe in the importance of European co-operation for delivering the global objectives of this country—to enhance our security, our prosperity, a sustainable future—and to deliver justice across the world, especially for its poorest people. The reform treaty will better equip the European Union to focus on and deliver on those challenges. Britain should and will continue to play a leading part in ensuring that Europe acts on those priorities.
My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, does she not agree that, in promoting the benefits of the treaty as positively as she has, she might have made some reference to the strengthened democratic procedures, most notably the requirement of co-decision-making with the European Parliament, which is now to become the legislative norm? Is not democracy important, as well as efficiency?
My Lords, I was merely saving some things for my closing speech. The noble Lord is of course correct. I beg to move.
Moved, That this House takes note of the report of the forthcoming European Council in Lisbon on 13 and 14 December.—(Baroness Ashton of Upholland.)
My Lords, I am sure that noble Lords are grateful to the noble Baroness the Lord President for moving this Motion and giving us the opportunity, in theory, to have some input into the processes leading to the reform treaty. Of course, the reality is not quite so encouraging, because what is to be signed in Lisbon next week is already fixed and cannot be amended. It will come as no surprise to the noble Baroness that we will seek to amend the Bill, but the treaty is set in granite already and that granite is about to be dumped on us. We cannot change it.
I shall not spend too much time arguing about the contentious and controversial issue of a possible referendum on this treaty. The noble Baroness and everyone else know our position. We say that there should be a referendum because the treaty is plainly a remake of the original constitutional treaty, which came to grief. The Labour Party and the Government say no. We agree with most leaders in the European Union, such as the German, Spanish, Irish, Czech, Finnish, Danish, Austrian, Belgian, Italian and Luxembourgian Prime Ministers, and several others, that this is the constitution in all but name, and we agree with Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, the father of the former treaty, who says that it is the same word for word, with not a comma changed. We also agree with the other place’s European Scrutiny Committee, which made exactly the same point. On the other hand, the Labour Party, plus one Dutch opinion that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, mentioned, disagree with that.
Sometimes we Conservatives are accused of being alone in the European Union. In this case, it is the Government and the Labour Party who are alone. Labour promised a referendum but will not deliver, so there it is. We shall have to see whether they can hold out against the facts and the overwhelming wish of the British people that there should be a referendum. I leave that for the moment. The issue will, no doubt, come up in the debate, because it is a matter of trust and a commitment by the Government in their manifesto that is now, apparently, to be overthrown.
In the past, the noble Baroness asked me a question that I was rather hoping she would ask me again today. The question she put to me before was what we, the Conservative Party, would do in government if the treaty had already been signed and sealed and had entered into force. In one way, it is a very flattering question, since it assumes that the next Government will be Tory. That is a realistic assumption, but it is quite an admission from a Cabinet member.
My Lords, I made no such assumption. I did not ask the question again because I had already asked it and I know that the noble Lord is a noble gentleman who would answer the question as soon as he had an answer. It is simply a theoretical and hypothetical question that all opposition parties of merit need to answer about what they would do if the circumstances were such.
My Lords, it is hypothetical for the second reason that I was going to come to, because it assumes that we would lose the referendum battle. I believe that that is wrong. We intend to win it, so the more relevant question is what Labour would do if there was a referendum and the treaty was rejected, as is perfectly possible. It happened with the previous constitutional treaty, which Mr Giscard d’Estaing says is identical word for word.
I turn first to the famous, or infamous, passerelle clause—the so-called simplified procedure or self-amending provision in Article 33.7 of the working draft that we have here; we still do not have a final text. Last time, leading members of the Government said that it was unacceptable. It still stands in the middle of the treaty, so I imagine that views have changed on it. Article 33.7 allows the Council to move to majority voting in any of the areas outside Part 3 of the treaty, which is the detailed bit, covered by unanimity, including foreign policy but excluding defence. The change would not need to be ratified by national parliaments.
There is a provision that, if a parliament complains within six months, such a proposal will not go through, but the presumption would be reversed from what we have known in the past. Unless the Government, having already signed up to something, allow Parliament time to vote against it, it goes through automatically. That would unquestionably undermine the role of Parliament in controlling treaty changes. It is quite the opposite of what the Lord President said: it would mean a shift of power towards the EU’s leaders and away from national parliaments.
We have been through all this before. In the 2003 White Paper, the Government said:
“There is also a proposal for a clause which would allow the European Council to vote by unanimity to move any Treaty article to QMV. We oppose anything which would undermine the role of national parliaments in Treaty change”.
It seems that that opposition means nothing now and has been overthrown. No twist of logic or debating dexterity can erase or obscure the fact that this transfer is a big slice of power away from national parliaments into the hands of central EU institutions. You may think that it is a good thing or a bad thing, but it is a fact. I hope that we will never again hear it asserted that such a treaty as this one, let alone the one before, transfers powers back to member states, because it does no such thing.
I must, without making too many demands on your Lordships’ time, say a little about the red lines, because the Lord President has placed considerable weight on them. First, the red lines do not cover—this is aside from whether they work, which I will come to in a moment—the new two-and-a-half-year, and presumably five-year, EU president. Some people urge—it is not in the treaty but many people urge this—that this EU president should also become the Commission president and therefore a sort of Mr Europe. The red lines also do not cover the renamed Foreign Minister or the substantial new diplomatic service, and they do not cover the fact, which I think the Lord President missed out, that the high representative or Foreign Minister is also to be a vice-president of the Commission under Article 9(e), thus serving both supranational and intergovernmental masters. That is a matter that your Lordships will want to reflect on, as it is very significant. Moreover, the red lines do not cover the single legal personality, the 60 vetoes lost or the ratchet clause to which I have just referred.
Although the Government were not happy before about most of these things, presumably they are now happy. As to the red lines themselves, they are more or less the same as last time. The last report from the European Scrutiny Committee of another place was brutally frank about them. On the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the committee does not accept that the protective protocol,
“guarantees that the Charter can have no effect on the UK”.
Also, everyone knows that the European Court of Justice can and will make rulings that may arise from cases outside the UK, from which we will have no escape whatever.
On the red line on foreign policy, there is a declaration in the treaty of freedom for the United Kingdom, but that is really where it all stops: it is a declaration, not even a protocol. In fact, the treaty proposes 11 new areas of foreign policy where the veto is removed and it puts forwards the requirement that the EU high representative should state the Union’s position at UN meetings. It goes without question that we should co-operate closely with our EU neighbours on specific world issues; of course we must. For example, if, as some hope, the prospect of EU membership can heal divisions that are looming again in Bosnia-Herzegovina, that would be excellent and positive. However, that the whole pattern should be frozen into a process by law is, to my mind, far more dubious. In some cases, it would be plain silly.
The Select Committee goes into huge detail on the justice and home affairs red line. I fear that we will be returning to this, but its view is that the transitional measures over five years,
“appear to weaken the UK’s position”,
and that the opt-in decision under the proposals will become one that,
“may lead to serious consequences for the UK through the transfer of jurisdiction on important measures dealing with civil and criminal justice”.
Not much of a red line there.
When the time comes, we shall also have to look closely at the apparent obligation that the treaty imposes on national parliaments—the Lord President mentioned this—and the proposition that national parliaments contribute to the good functioning of the Union. The committee, having noted that the “shall” in the phrase “shall contribute” has now been omitted, says that that is still highly ambiguous. The protocol on national parliaments, which was one of the good things in the former treaty, seems to have been watered down. I should like the Lord President’s guidance on this. Earlier, the proposition was that it would require a third of national parliaments to block a measure. Now it seems that, although a third of national parliaments can register dismay, half the national parliaments are needed to block a measure. Perhaps the Lord President or somebody could clear that up. It is very hard to elucidate the real position from the text, which has no contents and no guide for the reader.
We shall also need to examine closely the new power proposed over employment policies, which the UK Government tried to delete, but gave up; on energy policy, where our interests and those of mainland Europe obviously diverge enormously, given the continental reliance on the trans-Siberian and Russian systems; and on climate policy, which the Lord President mentioned, where the EU Emissions Trading Scheme has been judged by independent, factual reports to be a dismal failure and appears to be leading not only to no cut in carbon emissions but to an increase in carbon emissions in the European area. In all those areas, we need to watch very closely that the right hands are on the lever, not the wrong ones.
Over all this looms the power of the European Court of Justice. As your Lordships pointed out when examining the previous treaty, the new proposals in effect make the ECJ unquestionably the supreme court with ultimate powers over the Union and over the boundaries and limits of all competencies as between member states and the EU institutions. As the Economist magazine pointed out,
“there is nothing in the opt-outs to stop British judges being invited to pay attention to European rulings and case law involving other countries”.
Jurisprudence will be created from now on based on the charter, and it will create precedents that all member states will be obliged to respect, opt-outs or opt-ins or nothing at all.
Just as we want smaller and more effective central government here at home—we certainly do not have it at the moment—so we also want the central EU apparatus and its budget to reflect the same aims. We believe that veiled threats that the UK would somehow be marginalised or isolated if we dared to challenge current EU trends, or dogmatic assertions that alternatives to the present direction are “not on offer”, are absurd. Far from being marginalised in a second-class Europe, as I have heard suggested, we would be in the first-class section. It is the so-called core countries, saddled with over-regulation, overcentralisation and low productivity, that would be lagging behind.
None of that needs arise. We do not need Europe to go that way. We can and will achieve a more sensible organisation for Europe's future. Once this backward-looking treaty, which stands in the way of a better Europe and not on the path to a better Europe, has been cleared aside, we will be in an entirely new situation, brimming with opportunities for reform. The gateway will be wide open, not merely for remodelling many aspects of the old EU, designed in the last century, but for the EU’s transformation into an enlarged organisation far better suited to Europe’s needs in the 21st century.
To be told that because one questions this treaty one therefore objects to a better EU is frankly a silly debating point. I totally reject the defeatism of those who say that we are stuck and that we cannot halt and change the slide of the present EU towards ever greater integration. This kind of defeatism comes to us from both sides. It comes from the dismissive Europhiles, who say that everything from Brussels is marvellous, that Franco-German dominance will always outwit us and that if we query it we will always be in outer darkness. It also comes just as much from the “let us withdraw” brigade, which likewise insists that we will always be outwitted and should therefore abandon ship. None of these people seems to realise that we are one of Europe’s biggest economies and strongest nations, with the full ability to use our power as well as our highly skilled diplomacy, for good or bad, in deciding the European future. Obviously I am determined that it should be the former.
What is not debatable is that the UK must always—I stress always—remain engaged in Europe, as it always has been in our history except for one or two disastrous periods. Our place today is also in the wider networks of the rising Asia, but we must be the best practitioners of regional co-operation. We must be good Europeans. I think that, when we debated this the other day, I heard a jeering noise from the Lib Dem Benches. In fact, I would claim that we are much better Europeans, and always will be, than those who want to foist a divisive and intrusive new legal order on to Europe’s ancient nations. We certainly want to work closely with our European neighbours in all matters of security, as well as in many other areas. Our European neighbours are our allies, our friends and our partners, but they should no more be our bosses than our equally valued partner, the United States of America.
In the end, our best strength as good Europeans, as well as good citizens of the world, has been and always will be in our own inner resources, our confidence and our commitment to the key values of democracy and the rule of law in an open and fair society. Nations are more than ever today the building blocks of a sound and peaceful international order. Much of our best contribution to that order is to be confident guardians of our own security and national interests. When we are in government, we shall deal with European and EU issues firmly, confidently and in that spirit.
My Lords, I apologise for my voice. I hope that it will survive my speech. I start with some rapid comments on the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Howell. We on these Benches do not see the Conservatives as alone inside the EU. We do, however, see the current Conservative Party as embarrassingly close to the populist, nationalist, right-wing parties in other European countries and sadly far from the mainstream of Christian democracy and conservatism, which are the constructive links that they ought to have.
I have heard only one source for the suggestion that the positions of the president of the Council and the president of the Commission should be merged, and that is Open Europe, the British Eurosceptic think tank. I know of no other source for that suggestion. Anyone who knows a little about the European Union knows that small countries would never accept the merger of those two positions, so can we kill that canard before it gets far beyond Open Europe, the Sun and the Daily Mail?
Next January, Britain will have been in the European Union for 35 years. That is two political generations. The generation that took us in has long since retired, and many of its members have passed away. Edward Heath stated clearly that Britain’s future lay in partnership with our European neighbours, rather than being subservient to the United States. Harold Wilson had tried to take Britain into the EU in 1967 to 1968 until he was blocked by President de Gaulle. When he returned to office in 1974, he drifted towards a referendum, not out of conviction but to accommodate the divisions in his party and to make up for his unwillingness to provide clear, political leadership on the issue. All these years later, we remain a reluctant and semi-detached member with a Government who do not promote British interests in the EU effectively because they are forever looking over their shoulder at an unpersuaded public at home.
This will be the fifth revision of the treaty since we joined. Two previous reform treaties were carried through under the Conservatives and two by Labour. One of Margaret Thatcher’s greatest international achievements was the launch of the single market programme with the Single European Act that accompanied it. John Major’s negotiation of the Maastricht treaty, the most radical reform treaty so far, was undermined at home by faction fighting in his divided Cabinet. Tony Blair’s greatest failure, after Iraq, has been the drift back from the partnership with France and Germany in the EU that he promised in 1997 to today’s semi-detachment, which was driven by his cowardice in relation to the right-wing media—particularly the Murdoch press—leaving their Eurosceptic narrative as the dominant European message that the British public receive.
This debate marks the opening of a long six months of detailed scrutiny in both Houses. We need to focus on how the proposed changes fit in with Britain’s long-term national interests and not lose ourselves in the familiar fables of conspiratorial continentals that so often threaten to drive informed debate and informed Members out of the Chamber. There is, as the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, admitted to me in a radio discussion the other week, a “nutter-on-the-bus” problem with the most determined Europhobes—others do their best to move as far away as possible when they get up to speak.
Can we at least agree some ground rules and exclude some of the worst nightmares of Europhobic rhetoric in the long months ahead? Can we discuss European defence co-operation, a British initiative—it was Tony Blair’s one significant European initiative while he was Prime Minister—without mentioning jackboots or suggesting that it is imposing a militaristic Europe on peaceful Britain? We all know that “jackboots” implies that Germans are still militaristic Nazis rather than the reality of pacifistic politicians who hesitate to commit troops to hard fighting or to fly their helicopters in Afghanistan at night.
Could we avoid suggesting that anyone who has worked for the European institutions and draws a pension from them is a traitor, bound by the money they receive to sell Britain short? I happily receive a pension from a university, but I do not feel bound to support Universities UK. The implication is that the European Union is a hostile power and that no patriotic Englishman could accept his money or its authority, rather as Protestant unionists used to assert that no patriotic Englishman could accept the authority of a foreign Pope.
My Lords, as the noble Lord has been good enough to mention me in a context that I do not recall, perhaps I may point out to him that his pension from a British university is not put in jeopardy if he ceases to support the interest of that university, whereas a pension from the European Union is. That is the difference.
My Lords, we can listen to the tape of the radio programme again. I am sure that the noble Lord will recall those many people who would claim that you cannot be a patriotic Englishman and a papist. There are those—not too far from this House—who have in their youth expressed such sentiments.
Could we also move away from the false dichotomy between European co-operation and independent foreign policy? Britain has not had an independent foreign policy for decades. We have co-operated with others through NATO, the UN, the European Union and many other multilateral organisations within which we negotiate and advance our shared interests. The choice we face is between closer co-operation with our European partners, increased dependence on the United States or marginalisation as a player in world politics—to become a greater Norway or an offshore Switzerland.
The treaty that the Lisbon European Council will send to us for ratification is, like all previous treaties, a compromise. It does not give Britain everything we want, but neither does it give France, Germany or Poland everything that they want. That is what happens in multilateral diplomacy. Across the board, British Ministers negotiate the terms of our engagement in the global economy, pursue answers to the threat of climate change, try to combat the smuggling of people and drugs across the world, promote international stability and economic development, and protect citizens at home and abroad through the European Union, the OECD, NATO, G8 and the United Nations. In all of those endeavours we gain influence by combining our efforts with our European neighbours, whose interests on almost all of these issues are closer to ours than those of any other state or group of states, including the United States.
We will discuss proposals to strengthen European co-operation in foreign policy and defence as we scrutinise the treaty. As Ministers repeatedly argue that Europe should be more outward-looking, that European co-operation matters above all in meeting the challenges of globalisation, such strengthening, I hope the House will agree, is strongly in Britain’s interests. Our Foreign Secretary even wanted to argue in his Bruges speech that the EU needed a capabilities charter, until the No. 10 press office told him it might upset the press to admit that. But the press is full of reports of overstretch in Britain’s Armed Forces, of troops and airmen sent into operations with elderly and worn-out weapons systems, of the wide gap between the defence budget and the future equipment programme. As my late friend Lord Garden used to argue, the UK has a choice: we can either sharply raise our defence spending over the next 10 years or we have to pursue closer co-operation with our European partners. There is, as Mrs Thatcher would have said, no other alternative.
We will also examine proposals for an EU External Action Service, against a chorus of charges from the sceptic press that it is a step towards a European foreign ministry and the loss of our permanent seat at the UN. But look what is happening to the UK’s diplomatic representation abroad, as another round of Treasury cuts presses in on our foreign service. The UK is already unrepresented in 20 African states and has fewer posts in Latin America than France, Germany or Italy. So, sharing posts with other European Governments in distant states would raise Britain’s visibility. We could perhaps defend our independence by raising our FCO budget sharply, as well as our defence budget, but then the Conservatives are supposed to be in favour of cutting spending and taxes, not raising them, are they not?
We will discuss closer co-operation in the pursuit of international crime, the protection of ordinary citizens outside their own state boundaries, the control of illegal immigration and the prevention of terrorism. The Government’s defensive stance on the changes proposed in the reform treaty focuses here on many red lines and the protection of British sovereignty, but, as I understand it, many senior British policemen want to be more closely engaged than we are and think it mistaken to hamper the pursuit of crime by clinging too tightly to territorial boundaries that criminals so easily pass through. Both the previous Conservative Government and the current Labour Government have been disingenuous over the growth of co-operation in justice and home affairs. The UK has formally opted out of the Schengen agreement, to the applause of the Daily Mail, and then informally opted in to as much of the data exchange, police and customs networks and links among prosecution lawyers as possible.
Large numbers of British policemen are attached to Europol in The Hague and as national liaison officers to embassies in capitals throughout the European Union. I was told the other week that the UK Border and Immigration Agency now has nearly 1,000 staff working in France. That is all very necessary and desirable in maintaining our border checks, and we must be grateful to the French for co-operating and accepting it. Imagine the outcry from the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, and Bill Cash MP if 1,000 French officials were stationed in the UK. There are well over 1,000 US intelligence officers stationed in the UK, in Menwith Hill, Alconbury and elsewhere, unreported to Parliament, but that invasion of British sovereignty is, of course, another matter.
I understand that the word has gone out across Whitehall that as little as possible should be said about European initiatives over the next six months until the treaty is ratified, to avoid arousing public interest or stirring the dragons of the press. Preliminary discussions are beginning on the External Action Service, but the British participants will be instructed to say little for fear of leaks. President Sarkozy’s Government are discussing with the US Administration a rebalancing of the relationship between NATO and the EU, intending to push the agenda forward under the French EU presidency, which starts in July next year. The British are less enthusiastic about that even than Washington.
There has been no leadership in British foreign policy and no leadership in British European policy even after 10 years in which the Government have failed to challenge the sceptical narrative of the British press; and no real debate on the underlying advantages of British membership of the EU, let alone an active strategy for persuading our EU partners to move further towards policies that suit Britain’s interests.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. On the issue of the need for a debate, I ask him to help me by explaining why the Liberals have reneged on the promise in their manifesto to provide for a referendum. If he wants a debate, would a referendum not be a great opportunity?
My Lords, we have been entirely clear in our statements that if we are to debate the issue publicly, we need to debate the underlying issues I am talking about—that is, the advantages of Britain being in the European Union—not the scare stories that revolve around the details of this treaty.
Some noble Lords are, no doubt, avid readers of the Spectator. I direct those who are not to an article in that magazine from 24 November for a partial answer to why Gordon Brown’s Government, like Tony Blair’s, is so mealy-mouthed on the European issue. The article is by Irwin Stelzer, memorably described by Andrew Neil as Rupert Murdoch’s representative on earth, and a regular visitor to No. 10 and Chequers—as of course is Rupert Murdoch himself. It criticises the Prime Minister’s recent Mansion House speech for being insufficiently pro-American and for calling for a special relationship between Europe and America, rather than between America and Britain. The Brown Government, Stelzer argues, are outsourcing foreign policy to,
“a variety of international organisations”,
such as the European Union and the UN. Of course, the Murdoch press hates the UN as passionately as it hates the EU.
Oddly enough, since News International has not yet given up hope that Gordon Brown will follow its lead, Stelzer then goes out of his way to add:
“None of this is to criticise the Prime Minister”.
This unwelcome shift from subservience to a right-wing US Administration is apparently due to the influence of an evil genius mistakenly invited into the heart of the Government:
“Malloch Brown, who proudly claims to represent terrorist-supporting Syria”,
“his history of hostility to America … his defence of UN corruption … his presumption of lobbying the US Senate in opposition to the confirmation of the President’s choice of US representative to the UN”.
This diatribe, we should remember, comes from the same organisation whose “fair and balanced” Fox News has given air space to allegations that Senator Barack Obama is a secret Muslim. So, it is possible that not all of these charges may be entirely accurate.
We believe that Britain’s best interests are served by active participation in European co-operation. We will scrutinise the reform treaty from that perspective. We urge the Government to rediscover some courage in leading public opinion on the issue and in particular to stand up to the Eurosceptic press. We welcome the positive and constructive speech with which the noble Baroness the Lord President opened the debate and hope that her colleagues will begin to discover the same degree of courage. Britain has drifted into semi-detachment from European co-operation for far too long. It is time to re-engage.
My Lords, I thank the Lord President for introducing this Motion to Take Note. As the noble Baroness has just mentioned, the Select Committee on the European Union and its seven sub-committees are currently engaged in a detailed analysis of the text of the reform treaty on which the heads of state and government reached agreement at the informal summit on 18 October in Lisbon. Our purpose, as I have mentioned before in your Lordships’ House, is to provide the House, in advance of the arrival here of the ratification Bill, with an objective assessment of the impact of the treaty on the United Kingdom in the event that it is ratified by the member states and comes into force.
Our methodology is to compare the provisions of the draft treaty with the provisions of the treaties that preceded it, which it amends. Put simply, what difference will the treaty make to the European Union—and, by extension, to us—compared with where we were under the preceding treaties, the most recent of which was the treaty of Nice? Her Majesty’s Government have assured us that they will present the reform treaty to Parliament after the European Council with an Explanatory Memorandum and provide the Select Committee with a comparison of the reform treaty with the existing treaties, with supporting analysis, after Christmas. We anxiously await that. Meanwhile, given that any amendments to the text will be minimal, we are pursuing our inquiry on the basis of the text currently available. We are taking considerable expert evidence.
Your Lordships will understand why, at this stage, I cannot share any emerging conclusions based on work still in progress. The only conclusions so far reached by the Select Committee—that is to say, on the intergovernmental conference process that produced the text of 18 October and some preliminary conclusions on the general role envisaged in the treaty for national parliaments—were published on 1 November in our report with evidence, The EU Reform Treaty: Work in Progress. Perhaps I may remind the House of what we concluded.
Your Lordships will recall that June’s European Council, under the German presidency, presented the IGC with a clear and tight mandate, so that its work was mainly technical and its goal was to ensure that a text was prepared that delivered on the mandate. As the Portuguese presidency intended, this mandate was by and large adhered to. The giving of such a precise and detailed mandate to an IGC is unusual and the tightness of the timetable was equally unusual. Your Lordships’ Select Committee therefore recommended in its report that,
“the Government report to Parliament, after the December European Council, on the implications, both in terms of scrutiny and transparency and of effectiveness in agreeing policy, of an IGC proceeding on the basis of such a tight mandate”,
and such a tight timeframe.
As the Lord President mentioned, the role of national parliaments is for the first time recognised in an article of a European Union treaty. Previous reference was made only in protocols, such as that attached to the Amsterdam treaty. That protocol, Protocol 9, stated a desire to encourage the greater involvement of national parliaments in the activities of the Union and provided for information, including Commission proposals, to be provided to national parliaments, plus a six-week period during which parliamentary scrutiny could be applied. In the new reform treaty, the early version of the text of the article dealing with national parliaments stated:
“National Parliaments shall contribute actively to the good functioning of the Union”.
The Select Committee in this House, like our sister European Scrutiny Committee in another place, was concerned that the use of the word “shall” might imply that the EU could prescribe functions and impose obligations on sovereign national parliaments, which would be quite unacceptable.
We drew this matter to the attention of the Minister for Europe, who agreed with us that the wording was inappropriate and assured us that it would be raised in the IGC. It was, and the word “shall” was removed from the English text. National parliaments cannot, of course, contribute actively to the good functioning of the Union without being fully informed. Well before the new treaty was drafted, the European Commission had set up a system of direct transmission of documents to national parliaments. This means that our Select Committee receives these documents, many of them draft legislative Acts, a little in advance of the Government’s own delivery to us of the same documents, numbering about 1,200 a year, accompanied by Explanatory Memoranda prepared by the departmental ministries. That is the grist for the scrutiny mill operated by the Select Committee and its seven sub-committees.
The need for ensuring that national parliaments are properly informed is set out, with detailed provisions, in Protocol 1 to the treaty. This should, in principle, contribute to transparency and allow direct engagement by national parliaments in EU matters. We would like the Government to ensure that not only the Commission but all the EU institutions and others covered by the protocol, such as groups of member states, fulfil their obligations under these provisions. The period between documents being made available to national parliaments in the official languages of the EU and their consideration by the Council is extended by the reform treaty from the six weeks allowed under the treaty of Amsterdam to eight weeks. That is good news, but we hope that the Government can clarify that the clock begins only when a document is available in all those languages.
The protocol makes no mention of the system agreed by the Commission and noted in the European Council conclusions of June 2006, whereby national parliaments are encouraged to correspond directly with the Commission on any legislative matter, in particular, but not limited to, subsidiarity and proportionality. Your Lordships’ Committee attaches high importance to this process, as do our sister European affairs committees right across the European Union. There is an as yet modest, but growing, flow of Select Committee correspondence with the Commission, initiated by us. It is usually related to recommendations for Commission actions featured in our reports to this House. At a tripartite meeting yesterday in the European Parliament with the national parliaments and the Commission, I thanked President Barroso for his Commission’s prompt and thoughtful responses to our comments and recommendations. We hope that that will continue.
Our Select Committee has asked the Government why this important commitment, often known as the Barroso initiative, was not enshrined in the treaty. The Minister for Europe agreed that the system was working well and that there was no reason why it should not continue. That opinion, coupled with the Commission’s assurance that it remains strongly committed to the initiative—President Barroso confirmed that yesterday—is welcome, but we must remain vigilant.
Protocol 2, annexed to the reform treaty, deals with applying the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality on which the Commission is required to consult and justify its actions, which, on the whole, it does. The existing protocol introduced by the Amsterdam treaty did little more than encourage COSAC, the body that brings together the European affairs committees of the member states’ parliamentary chambers, to look at subsidiarity issues. The scrutiny committees of our two Houses took that as an invitation to get proactive in monitoring draft EU legislation for compliance with those two principles—as did other parliaments, particularly the two French chambers. An EU-wide mechanism was set up and pilot projects jointly launched and completed. That is why the reform treaty takes parliamentary monitoring very seriously.
Under Protocol 2, national parliaments now have eight weeks in which to send, if they wish, a reasoned opinion why a draft piece of legislation does not comply with the subsidiarity principle. If a third of the chambers raise concerns, the EU institution—usually the Commission—will have to review its proposal. It could decide to maintain it, amend it or withdraw the draft, giving its reasons in each case. That is known as the yellow card.
However, the treaty, as the Lord President observed, goes further in favour of national parliaments, introducing an additional and stronger mechanism triggered at a higher threshold of votes. I make no apology for repeating this, because it is significant. In the case of draft legislative Acts subject to co-decision by the Council and the European Parliament, where the reasoned opinions for objection on subsidiarity grounds represent a simple majority of the votes allocated to national parliaments, the Commission must first justify its reasons if it wishes to maintain the proposal. It is then for the Council and the European Parliament to consider the Commission’s justification and the national parliaments’ objections. If 55 per cent of Council members or a majority of votes cast in the European Parliament are against the Commission, the proposal must be dropped. That is known as the orange card, it being the brainchild of the Dutch Parliament.
We see no problem in there being two systems; together, the yellow and orange cards enhance the direct involvement of national parliaments in EU legislative procedures. However, in our preliminary report, which is already published, we identified a number of detailed questions to be asked about implementing the orange card. We suggest that the Government find the means to consult both Houses to ensure that the operation of these procedures is agreed between the Government and Parliament.
The final issue for national parliaments that I will raise is the simplified procedure provided for treaty revision by the reform treaty, which the noble Lord, Lord Howell, mentioned. This is extremely important for your Lordships’ House. The so-called passerelle or bridging provisions allow certain changes to the treaties without formal treaty amendment involving the convening of an intergovernmental conference. Under an article in the new treaty, any national parliament would have the right of veto over any proposed use of the simplified revision procedure, which may be applied to provisions of Part 3 of the treaty on the functioning of the Union, on Union policies and on internal actions. This is in line with earlier recommendations from the Select Committee to provide safeguards over the use of the passerelle.
There are, however, still uncertainties over the precise extent and operation of the treaty’s various passerelle provisions, although the principles are clear. In particular, it is not clear whether any national parliamentary veto will operate separately for two chambers in a bicameral parliament. The Select Committee objected strongly to the Government’s previous proposal in relation to the aborted constitutional treaty that the parliamentary veto would be a matter for the other place, with this House merely allowed to express an opinion within 20 days. Our objection stands and we need to hear from the Government whether this discriminatory practice will apply under the new treaty. We sincerely hope not.
I have spoken at some length about the reform treaty’s impact on the role of national parliaments because we in the Select Committee and the sub-committees feel very strongly that the role of national parliaments in the conduct of the European Union’s affairs is of the highest importance. I venture to suggest that that may be a view shared on all sides of the House, regardless of differing opinions on the merits of the reform treaty. The Select Committee will revisit the conclusions on the role of national parliaments reflected in our recent preliminary report of work in progress in light of the evidence that we are now taking on the broader report. I am sorry that I cannot say more about those emerging conclusions at this stage.
Finally, I take this opportunity once again to express my sincere thanks to the nearly 80 members of your Lordships’ House and the excellent staff supporting them in their arduous and continuing task of ensuring that this House will have at its disposal a comprehensive and thoroughly objective assessment of the reform treaty before the Bill to ratify the treaty reaches your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, I begin by expressing my gratitude to the noble Baroness the Lord President for her comprehensive introduction to this debate today. I add to that my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, for the very clear way in which he has dealt explicitly with how the proposals in the reform treaty affect national parliaments.
Today is not the day for intense scrutiny of the reform treaty, which will come all too soon by the traditional method that we have adopted when we reform treaties—ratification by Parliament rather than by referendum. A lot will be said about referendums during this debate, and I repeat what I said once before in this House: I believe that my right honourable friend the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was wrong when he promised a referendum. I said so at the time and I still believe it. But that was at least understandable in the context of the constitutional nature of the treaty—wrong, but understandable. Today we have to acknowledge that the constitutional treaty died; it was formally and officially killed off and buried, following its rejection in France and Holland. Today we have a very different reform treaty, which is being ratified in precisely the same way as all its predecessor reform treaties. So today is not about referendums, nor should it be.
It is a matter of record in this House that some people are so firmly set in their prejudicial views that they never allow the facts to get in the way of a good gripe about Europe, as if that somehow purged the system. Holders of such views will no doubt assert, usually without any supporting evidence, that the constitutional treaty and its successor reform treaty are similar if not identical in everything but name. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, poured scorn on the Dutch Council of State. That was really not up to his normal standard. The Dutch Council of State is a highly regarded and important constitutional mechanism, which concluded in a cogent and carefully argued opinion that the new reform treaty not only is not broadly equivalent to the constitutional treaty but applies in countries that do not have opt-outs such as the United Kingdom has. He then went on to quote in aid the Select Committee in another place, with less than his usual assiduity in telling us all the facts about what happened. The Select Committee report said:
“What matters is whether the new Treaty produces an effect which is substantially equivalent to the Constitutional Treaty. We consider that”—
here are the important words—
“for those countries which have not requested derogations or opt outs from the full range of agreements in the Treaty, it does”.
The committee then referred readers to the table in the annexe to the report.
The committee quite clearly distanced the United Kingdom from that. Mr Bill Cash sought greater clarity in the report. If noble Lords look at the report, they will find that, at paragraph 9, Mr Cash moved an amendment that proposed to add, at the end of line 10:
“We do not consider that, in the event, the Reform Treaty is ‘very different’ from the Constitutional Treaty”.
Mr Cash’s amendment received the support of Mr David Heathcoat-Amory, who was in that minority group of six in the Convention on the Future of Europe. That was the only support that Mr Cash had; there was no one from the government party. His amendment was defeated by five votes to two in the other place.
My Lords, I want to conform to the high standards of assiduity that the noble Lord expects from me. I wonder whether he would read out the sentence that follows the ones that he read out from the report of the Select Committee in the other place. I do not think that it conforms to the sense that he is purveying.
My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord does not have the report with him, because I read to the end of that paragraph. The report then carries on with paragraph 73, which is on a completely different issue. I read everything to the end of the paragraph.
My Lords, the noble Lord is talking about the report from the European Union committee in another place. At paragraph 45, the report states:
“Taken as a whole, the Reform Treaty produces a general framework which is substantially equivalent to the Constitutional Treaty”.
My Lords, as the noble Lord knows, I have made my argument. I will listen to his later on if I have to.
At times, I believe that my Government are too timid about Europe. There are times when they should show greater drive, imagination and commitment to some of what I believe are our European obligations. I represented your Lordships' House in the Convention on the Future of Europe together with the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, and supported a draft constitution, as did my Government initially. Prior to ratification and under strong parliamentary pressure, the Government identified their red lines and sought to protect them. They succeeded, which resulted in major changes for all and even greater changes for some. The UK red lines were entrenched in the reform treaty by opt-ins, opt-outs, exemptions and emergency brakes.
Notwithstanding my view about the timidity of my Government, the simple fact is that we have only one reform treaty on offer and we have only one thing that we can do with it: if we do not support it, we must reject it. If we reject it, because of the requirement of unanimity in treaty changes, we will wind up with possibly the worst of all conclusions, which is a continuation of the Nice treaty, the most unsatisfactory of the amendments made over the years. It is not a question of the promised land being round the corner if we get rid of this reform treaty; this is the only reform treaty on offer and the alternative is the status quo of the treaty of Nice. I have my regrets, as I know other noble Lords may have, but our idiosyncratic wishes are not on offer when we come to debate the reform treaty.
We have a draft reform treaty agreed by heads of government with unanimity. It can be changed only by unanimity; we will not be offered a variant treaty. We must ratify or reject what is currently on the table. Nobody in your Lordships’ House should allow their concept of the best to jeopardise the good that I believe is on offer.
What does the reform treaty significantly improve to the substantial benefit of not only our partners in the EU but also us? The noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, spelled out clearly the benefits to national parliaments. Those are very significant improvements, which we would be foolhardy to criticise or reject as somehow a worsening of the position of national parliaments. There is the whole packet of extremely important institutional changes. My noble friend the Lord President referred clearly to the benefits of having a full-time president. There are the advantages that are made in the area of common foreign and security policy, with the double-hatting of the high representative.
The advantages that have come from our engagement in common foreign and security policy are many and important. That role has expanded dramatically. Our role in the Middle East peace process and in the stabilisation of the Balkans, our role with our European partners in relation to Iran, the various security missions in Bosnia, in Gaza, on the West Bank and in the Central African Republic and the role that has just been adopted in Chad are very important. They will be made more efficient and effective by the system of the double-hatting of the high representative. The benefits are manifold and I am sure that we will go through them when we come to ratification.
Much more can be said in favour of the reform treaty; we will no doubt talk about this day by day over goodness knows how many days when we come to ratification. As I said, only two things are on offer: the reform treaty agreed by unanimity and requiring ratification by unanimity, or the treaty of Nice, with all its imperfections. No other options or permutations are available. In such circumstances, I unhesitatingly commend the agenda for the Lisbon summit. I look forward to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister coming back and saying that the discussions have been successfully concluded and I look forward to us getting the Bill that it will be our prerogative to ratify.
My Lords, it is always a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson. I like his rumbustious style. Even when he is talking nonsense, it is always a pleasure to hear that nonsense.
I suspect that the real purpose of the debate is to allow people like me to let off steam; I cannot see that it performs any other useful function. The Prime Minister is going off to Lisbon to sign the treaty whatever any of us says today. He is then going to force through Parliament a ratification Bill, by the use of guillotines and three-line Whips. We in Parliament will not be able to alter in the slightest respect what he is going to sign up to. The only useful thing that we can really do is try to shame the Government into honouring their promise to hold a referendum.
I find it very curious that while the treaty does, to all intents and purposes, embody the constitution that was rejected by France and the Netherlands, some people outside the Government as well as within continue to insist that the opposite is the truth. There may be something deeply psychological in this, but there is probably a more mundane explanation. I suspect that such people feel that if they do not continue to insist that black is white they will be conceding the case for a referendum, and that a referendum would end in a decisive “no” to this latest exercise in EU empire building. All that just tends to show that what we are experiencing now is just one more episode in the long history of deception practised by those driving the European project. That history has done enormous damage to democracy, and it has helped to create real distrust of politicians.
Successive Governments have diminished the authority of this Parliament and transferred powers to unelected European institutions without any proper consultation of the people. True, there was a referendum back in 1975, but the question on the ballot paper was the product of deceit. It was designed to give the impression that all that was at issue was membership of a Common Market—which was far from the truth, even at that time.
So if the Prime Minister refuses the people a referendum on the treaty in blatant disregard of the promise made in the 2005 general election, and if the Liberal Democrats support him in that deceit, there will be a price to pay. As I understand it, the Liberal Democrats suggest that there should be a referendum on membership of the EU instead of a referendum on the treaty. But that surely is to suggest, quite wrongly, that if we do not like the constitution we have no option but to leave the club. That is complete nonsense. Even the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, recognised that. Changes to the treaty can take place only with the agreement of all and we are perfectly entitled to withhold our consent and say that these changes are unacceptable to us and that people really ought to go away and think again.
Let us not forget that this treaty is the product of the German Chancellor’s plan to bring back the old treaty under a new name, using different terminology without changing the substance. That is not an assertion, but the unvarnished truth, because, very helpfully, the German Chancellor’s letter containing this plan was leaked and made public. So we know that that is the origin of the present treaty and, of course, there is plenty more evidence that we are discussing the constitution under a new guise. Virtually all the heads of government have echoed the words of the Spanish Prime Minister:
“We have not let a single substantial point of the constitutional treaty go”—
the old treaty, that is. He continued:
“It is, without a doubt, much more than a treaty. This is a project of foundational character, a treaty for a new Europe”.
So how on earth, in those circumstances does the Prime Minister seek to justify his refusal to hold a referendum? Well, he cannot say that the treaty does not alter fundamentally the relationship between the member states and the EU, because Mr Blair said that of the constitutional treaty and promised a referendum. The Foreign Secretary’s suggestion that the new treaty is not proposing the characteristics of a constitution was less than helpful. Here the scrutiny committee was remarkably moderate in its comments. It said that what matters is whether the new treaty produces an effect substantially equivalent to the constitutional treaty. Clearly, it does. So the Prime Minister is reduced to saying that the other countries may have signed up to the constitutional treaty in a new wrapping, but we have not done that because we have all our opt-outs. That seems to be his defence now, but that will not wash, because, as the scrutiny committee points out, the opt-outs, red lines and so on are substantially the same as those negotiated at the time of the constitutional treaty and it was after negotiating those red lines back in 2005 that Mr Blair made his referendum promise. How on earth can the Prime Minister today say, “Because I’ve got these red lines, I don’t have to have a referendum.”? It is complete and utter nonsense.
I do not have time to deal with the question of whether the opt-outs will be worth the paper they are written on after the Court has got at them, but I am tempted to say a word about the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the protocol that the Government say they have obtained. The protocol says that the charter does not extend the ability of the Court of Justice to find UK law inconsistent with the charter and that nothing in Title 4 creates justiciable rights applicable to the UK.
Judges of the European Court have said that they are sceptical about the effectiveness of the protocol, and the reason for that scepticism is blindingly obvious. In time, the charter will be interpreted by the Court following proceedings brought by citizens or Governments of other member states. Their interpretation of the charter will become part of European law and, as European law has primacy over our law, our courts will follow the European Court’s rulings. It is as simple as that, and that is why the protocol is meaningless.
The treaty contains some matters of immense constitutional importance, and I do not see how that can be denied. First, there is the new-style President of the Council—a change which means that, instead of negotiations taking place between the supranational Commission and a national head of government who has a vested interest in protecting the rights of member states, one unelected Brussels institution will be parleying with another. Even more serious is the scrapping of the bar on the merging of the posts of Council President and Commission President. I really do not understand the argument advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, who says that that will not happen. The question that he has to answer is: why does the treaty allow for it to happen now? It is no good saying that it will not happen; the treaty now allows it to happen when previously it could not have done, and that is a very worrying development. Indeed, the Government fought against this being allowed but were defeated in the negotiations and it is now a possibility.
My Lords, I recognise a new straight banana story on the way up. The reason that it was not in the treaty previously is that there was no President of the Council position for two years. I know of no source that has suggested that it is possible, except for British Eurosceptical think tanks. If the noble Lord can quote me continental sources which are proposing this, I should be very interested to hear them.
My Lords, I entirely fail to see the argument that the noble Lord is advancing. Why did other countries resist an attempt by the British Government to prevent this happening? Why did the Commission fight the British Government and insist on it being possible? If it is all so unlikely, why on earth did that happen? Clearly, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, has no answer to that, and I honestly do not see why he raised the point in the first place. The truth of the matter is that it could happen and, if it did, it would be a most dangerous development. The new postholder would be the most powerful unelected official in the world and, once he was created, it would be only a matter of time before there were calls for him to be directly elected and, lo and behold, we would have an elected president of a budding Euro superstate. That is why the British Government fought against this move—fought and lost. It beggars belief that the Government should have made these developments possible, having protested time and again that they would never agree to the merging of the Council and Commission presidencies.
Secondly, there is to be an EU Foreign Minister in all but name. He will be a member of the Commission; he will chair EU meetings of national Foreign Ministers; and, where there is a joint EU foreign policy position, he will have the right to speak for the UK in the Security Council, taking precedence over Britain’s Foreign Secretary. He will have the power to appoint EU envoys, heading up an expanding EU diplomatic service that will eventually—according to the press release from one EU official—number up to 20,000 people, with consulates all over the world.
The Government say that we have kept our veto in the area of foreign affairs. Really! What about proposals from the EU Foreign Minister? What about the design of the EU diplomatic service? What about terrorism and mutual defence? What about the election of the EU Foreign Minister? What about civil protection? What about the new EU foreign policy fund and consular issues? All those are matters where the veto will no longer apply.
Thirdly, there is the grant of legal personality. Here again there is a change of massive importance. The EU can already sign up to agreements in so-called First Pillar areas, such as trade, but the power is now to be extended to foreign policy, defence, crime and judicial issues. According to Mr Prodi, this is,
“a gigantic leap forward—Europe can now play its role on the World Stage thanks to its legal personality”.
That is no unimportant matter.
In conclusion, the Government’s performance during the negotiations of this treaty has been dismal. The Government should have fought like a tiger to bring a bit of democracy into the EU. They should have advocated taking away from the Commission the sole right to initiate legislation. They should have demanded a clear division of power between member states and Brussels, to stop the relentless drift of power from member states to the EU. But instead they have done precisely the opposite. They have given up the veto in key areas and accepted a change in the voting system which makes it harder to block legislation. They have agreed to most powers being defined as shared and member states being able to act only if the EU has chosen not to.
The Government started this exercise by telling us how tough they were going to be in the negotiations and how they were going to prevent this or that happening. At the end they have feebly surrendered on issue after issue. It is a dismal result with terrible consequences for this country.
My Lords, I begin by welcoming the Government’s decision to hold a debate before a European Council. We have traditionally had Statements after European Councils, with a rather brief time for comments, particularly for Cross-Benchers. This is one of the first debates in advance of decisions by heads of state and government in a European Council. It may be true that, in the particular case of the reform treaty, our influence on the course of events is small, but the debate is none the less welcome.
I spent a good part of my career in the United Kingdom public service dealing with EU matters, and some years in the European Commission as I yo-yoed between London and Brussels in those days before the wonderful Eurostar. In the light of that I declare that I have pensions from both sources. More particularly, I spent many years on the business of European Councils and I was present in—not, unlike most officials, outside—every meeting of the heads of state and government in the European Council for 10 years.
Although this debate is very welcome, we do not know precisely all the subjects that will be discussed at this European Council. At Seville, in 2002, the European Union decided that in future the draft agenda of European Councils would normally be available about six weeks before the meeting and the draft conclusions about three to four weeks before. I know that the Select Committee in another place in its current inquiry is considering who in its opinion might have access to these documents, but, in the mean time, that does not mean that ordinary Back-Benchers or even ex-Convenors have seen one.
Obviously, the reform treaty is the principal dish on this occasion. I am not too clear about the other, perhaps related, matters which may also be discussed in the European Council. I understand that these may include the proposal to appoint a group of wise men—and women, I hope—to examine the future direction of the Union. If so, I express the hope that they will be given terms of reference that enable them to concentrate on those issues that will be of interest and benefit not just to the so-called elite but to all our fellow countrymen and women and that they will not delve into institutional questions which should, in my view, be put away for many years to come.
I assume also that there will be discussions on globalisation and the European Union, to which the Government have referred in their pamphlet of October this year entitled Global Europe, to which the noble Baroness the Lord President referred. I welcome that pamphlet and shall return to it later in my speech.
I come now to the reform treaty, as it is expected that this will be signed by the leaders of the member states of the European Union at the Lisbon European Council. If so, we know that the Government intend that it should not be submitted to a referendum but should be submitted for ratification by Parliament in the tradition of our parliamentary government. In consequence, we in this House will be asked to approve a Bill for that purpose. The treaty itself cannot be amended. It seems to me none the less that the key issue for us is to judge whether and in what respects the treaty is of benefit to the United Kingdom and its people since that is the decision we have to take in voting for or against a Bill.
I have already made it clear in earlier debates that I consider the measures in this treaty to be useful but not very important for Britain. That view puts me in a very small minority. Relative to the major issues of today, in particular the changes in our society resulting from the high level of immigration and our involvement in wars outside our frontiers, this treaty is not at the top of my agenda. However, I would stress the place of the proposed treaty and its historical context within the European Union. It was launched in the belief by many member states that the highly significant enlargement of the Union by the recent addition of the 12 new member states in central and south Europe, so that we are now a Union of almost half a billion people, in a very diverse Union of different national histories and traditions—a truly great event in the history of our continent—does call for some changes in the institutional structure and the rules to make the new Union work better. As I have always been a strong supporter of the recent enlargement of the Union, I think that this perception by our partners of the role of the new treaty is also important for Britain. We have to recognise that this is what our partner member states think and we have to take proper account of that.
I pick out some points which illustrate why there is this perception of the reform treaty. Many of them have been mentioned here and no doubt will be mentioned again so I select a few. First, it is clear to me that the role which the member states of the Union together can play in encouraging peace, respect for human values, international development and stability, both worldwide and around our borders, has not been as effective as it might have been.
The common foreign and security policy has played a part but most member states think that they can do better as a result of the proposed changes, in particular, combining the foreign policy roles of the Commission and the high representative of the Council. The single person holding this role will be appointed by the member states in the European Council and can be sacked by it. He will chair the foreign ministers’ council and be responsible to it, thus ending the six-monthly rotation rule. This should not only make action more consistent but also maximise the advantage of combining diplomacy and the leverage which the Commission can sometimes bring to bear. It is true that this is no more than a redistribution of existing functions in Brussels in order to make them more effective in arriving at and implementing policies on which all member states agree, but in the greatly enlarged Union this can be of value.
Secondly, there already exists a large network of external delegations of the European Commission. How many may come as a surprise; they fell within my responsibility to some degree when I was in Brussels. There are plenty of them all over the place, concerned for the most part with trade, aid and development issues. That is clearly a legacy of great value to the enlarged Union. It is now proposed to make better use of this network by putting it under the high representative, thus meshing it in with national diplomatic services which would also provide some people from their own national resources to widen the scope of the delegations’ work. While maintaining our own excellent diplomatic service and presence in the world, I am certainly in favour of a little help from the External Action Service of the European Union. Indeed, when I was in Brussels I always believed that it could be used better.
Thirdly, the reform treaty includes elements which reflect public opinion right across the Union and are the opposite of supranational; for example, the increase in the role of national Parliaments—about which there has been quite a bit of discussion so far, and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, for his intervention on that—and the specific recognition that the European Union’s powers are only those which member states confer upon it,
“to attain objectives they have in common”.
More widely, we should use this Lisbon European Council, if the reform treaty is signed this week, as an opportunity to take stock, to turn away from dry and sterile arguments about institutional or treaty matters and to look towards the areas for priority action which we, the British, want to see in Europe. I therefore welcome the Government’s pamphlet Global Europe. Most of the British public will welcome the eight priority areas in it, and their first reaction will be, “Well, now, let’s get on with it and achieve them, or at least make some progress towards them”. That is clearly true of growth, employment, free trade, openness, climate change and energy security, and tackling terrorism and organised crime. Of course, most potential progress must rely on specific actions, such as improvement of the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme or the opening up of the energy and telecoms markets, as we have seen in the EU’s action to reduce mobile phone roaming charges.
One point which the brochure might emphasise a little more is the importance of making as effective as possible the adaptation resulting from the current enlargement of the Union. It is not a one-off operation; some things must still be dealt with to make the best use of this greatly enlarged market and area of influence. The document demonstrates that the European Union is involved worldwide in tackling problems and exploiting opportunities which can be of considerable benefit to Britain. I strongly hope that, after the reform treaty, we can look to a future in the European Union no longer mired in treaty amendments but committed to the search for action within the Union—which men and women in the Bell Inn Broadway, the indicator of political life in my part of the world, will see as worth while for them and their children.
My Lords, it is always a tremendous pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, and recall those days when he was the highly distinguished Secretary-General of the European Commission. He was also patient and kind enough to put up with successive and far too frequent importunate visits by naive and enthusiastic Europeans such as myself. Despite having a frenetic agenda in the Commission work office, which he opened up to visitors, he always gave one time patiently and maintained the same calm tone he shows now when he makes a speech on European matters. We thank him for the enormous amount of work he has done. I am glad that he referred to the delegations, now all over the world, of the European Community and European Commission offices which do so much valuable work, and how the public can relate to them in direct practical terms in any country—including the Commission offices in member states—without in any way undermining the sovereignty of the country of which they are proud to be patriotic citizens, as in Britain, France or Germany.
The idea that the European collective ideal rules out national sovereignty is absurd. These are all treaties and agreements between intrinsic, deep, continuing, sustaining and profound sovereign countries. This reform treaty enhances the individual sovereignty of the member states. The noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, expressed a degree of shock about the lugubrious, reactionary, backward, old-fashioned words of the Conservative spokesman, who has temporarily left his place. I was very shocked, too. I had never quite heard it so bad from the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford. This disease that has inhabited the Conservative Party is for them to deal with; I wish them luck in doing so. There are one or two Conservative Peers we occasionally see who are not quite like that; I happen to be looking at one right now. However, this appalling, incurable disease of hatred—I use the word liberally—of the European Union as it stands is shown even more by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington. I hope that he will not mind me saying so, but he was on the verge of venom about Europe and all that it has done and so on, as a huge piece of deception and a prolonged conspiracy. Surely he must understand, in the evolution of countries, as well as the evolution of the European Union then and now, things have proceeded step by step, as Jean Monnet always envisaged, with the sovereign member states making their collective decisions, enhancing both their individual sovereignty and the collective sovereignty of the European Community to ensure that the whole machine still—
My Lords, I hate to interrupt, but I want to correct the noble Lord in one regard. I was referring to the way in which we had handled European matters in this country. I felt that there had been a great deal of deception and was using that as an argument for having a referendum on this occasion.
My Lords, the member countries have together intelligently evolved gradually and created new structures through successive treaties. Maastricht was in many ways far more fundamental than the reform treaty. There was a Tory Government—which I rightly supported at the time as a Conservative MP in the other place—not proposing any referendum on that.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, is disagreeing with my humble opinion. We are only discussing opinions on facts, not sacred facts set in stone. The government spokesperson should therefore be congratulated today—I hope that does not cause her too much difficulty—on having set out clearly and moderately, and in a highly attractive and compelling way, the rationale for this reform treaty.
I am sure that if they were allowed to say it privately, the Ministers on the Front Bench would agree what a disaster it was that Tony Blair, who made such a good Prime Minister on so many domestic subjects, was so deficient on this. The constitution then was a much stronger document than the one we have now; there are considerable differences between the two, as the Government rightly said. Tony Blair said that the constitution was indispensable to Britain and there was no need for a referendum because the sovereign Parliament of the sovereign United Kingdom—Great Britain and Northern Ireland—elected by the people, would decide these matters. That is the most important expression of sovereignty in action: making political decisions. He then changed his mind because of Rupert Murdoch and the Daily Mail, and those other highly unintelligent organs of British press opinion, poisoning the British public’s mind about Europe for years as they have—we do not thank them for the work they have done and continue to do. Some people read intelligent newspapers, and thank goodness. More and more the majority of the British public are becoming keen on Europe in the practical sense. That is the attractive thing, as the Lord President said in her remarks: dealing with the modern world in a practical, unhysterical—unlike the noble Lord, Lord Waddington—and pragmatic way.
I refer to the original, nice, blue Foreign Office document, Guide to the European Union, which added in a bit about the EU constitution. Paragraph 2 on page 32 says that the treaty,
“sets out more clearly than before which powers the member countries choose to share. And it underlines for the first time that the EU has only those powers which the sovereign member countries agree it should have”.
That is the highest form of sovereignty of which I could ever hear.
When we sign all sorts of other treaties—with the UN, NATO and all over the world—and implicitly give away some of our most particular sovereignty to the rest of the collectivity as well as enhancing our own in practical terms, that is okay, even for the anti-Europeans on the Conservative Benches and for UKIP as well, I suppose. The two Conservatives who have spoken so far sounded more intense than UKIP when complaining about these matters, and this is the first time that I have heard that in this Chamber. Why is it wrong when it is the European Union? The title of section 2 of Command Paper 7174, The Reform Treaty, is “From the Treaty of Rome to the Reform Treaty”, which reflects the gradual evolution. That section states:
“The 50th Anniversary Declaration in March 2007 identified the EU’s key future challenges and set a target for placing the EU on a ‘renewed common basis’”—
that is a very good description—
“before the European Parliament elections in June 2009. The British Government’s overall aim in discussions was to improve the ability of the EU to deliver for its citizens”.
It sets out the six principles that the noble Baroness the Lord President referred to in her remarks—and I thank her for that. They are:
“pursuing British interests, a modern and effective EU, consensus among 27 Member States”—
what a shocking thing. The noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, said, “Aren’t they weak, the Europeans? They agree with each other. They form collective decisions. That is such a weakness. We have got to have this adversarial system exported to Europe, otherwise there’s something wrong with it because they won’t agree with the way that we sometimes run the internal politics of this country”. The list continues with,
“emphasis on subsidiarity, making best use of existing Treaties, and openness to global change”.
I suppose global change and, particularly, dealing with climate change in the whole world is the main reason why we need this reform treaty.
I am going to be brief today, but if there was time I would refer to other matters that are not in the treaty document, which is sad to me as I have been an enthusiastic European for many years. When I was chairman of European Movement in Britain in the early 1990s, Mr Giscard d’Estaing was chairman of the whole European Movement. I did not find him pompous at all, which was his reputation when he was President of France. He was an extremely amusing man and very scathing about British hesitation at that time, which was less fierce on the Conservative side than now. It is sad that a party that under Mr Cameron has modernised itself in respect of its internal domestic policy stances and formation has not done so in respect of the important aspect of our membership of Europe. I would love to have seen some aspects of the Government’s commitment in mundane things, such as showing the European flag in Britain—that was part of the Bill that I introduced in the previous Session, which foundered in the Commons. Now, 26 European states display the European flag frequently—here, there and everywhere on official buildings—but we do not do it in this country. I agree that there is no need for that to be in this treaty document.
When it comes along, the Bill will be a treaty Bill. There may be lots of pretend amendments, and there may be lots of real amendments, but we know that only one significant amendment can be presented and argued with.
We have not yet adhered to the euro. The other member states are in the euro-zone, and there is a lot about the euro in this new treaty document that will be effective for them but not for us. What a pity. What a tragedy that the United Kingdom still has not had the courage—under a Labour Government as well—to join what has now become the most successful currency in the world. It is a united policy that is doing very good work in increasing the prosperity of citizens throughout the European Union. Notwithstanding those things that still need to be done in the future, without in any way reducing at the margin the slightest scintilla of our intrinsic national sovereignty, we have to live with what we have now.
When the Bill eventually comes from the other place in whatever form—I assume it will get through the other place; I hope that it will and that common sense will prevail—we will have the chance of a detailed discussion, which need not be promulgated tonight, about the underlying rationale behind it. This House may give a lead if the Commons is still hesitant. There is always the traditional worry about some of our citizens’ attitudes to European matters, mainly because of the rubbish they read in the newspapers as well as their own decisions. I respect them if they take those decisions; they are entitled to that. It is a feature of this country that the hesitation is greater than in any other member state. With the possible exception of some eccentric people in Denmark and one or two funny people in Sweden, nowhere else is the hesitation so great.
I wanted the British Government to go to Cyprus and Malta to get their advice on how we could handle joining the euro. Those small territories have done it, so I do not see why Britain could not do it as soon as possible. In the mean time, I am sure that the whole House, with a few dissenting eccentric voices, will give this legislation a warm welcome. That is what I hope and pray. The Liberal Democrat party will be in the fore on that matter. We will be critical of the Government where necessary, but will enthusiastically support them when they are fighting some of the nutters on their own Benches in the other place—and we know there are some in another party. Maybe there will be some on the Labour Benches here who will be difficult, but the noble Lords, Lord Tomlinson, Lord Harrison and Lord Watson, will add to the pro-European bias of an increasingly intelligent House of Lords.
My Lords, will the noble Lord clarify a point of great importance to me and make it clear that the praise he heaped upon a Member of this side of the House was not intended for me but for my noble and learned friend Lord Howe? Any other interpretation would extinguish the slumbering embers of what, in my more optimistic moments, I consider my political career.
St John of Fawsley, I am so sorry, my Lords. My political career started with a gesture on his part. When he was going down from Cambridge in order to go up to Oxford, I was one of the college representatives raising membership for the Cambridge University Conservative Association under his leadership. When he departed, he wrote me a letter of thanks and appreciation for my work in that humble role that would have matched any from No. 10 Downing Street to a retiring Minister. My career was launched by the noble Lord, and I am grateful to him for that.
My Lords, I think that is enough badinage—I could not resist it. I have long since lost count of the number of speeches and pronouncements I have made on the European Community. I have often recalled in this House my first one. In the Jean Monnet era, in July 1950, I wrote a letter to a school friend just five years after we had left school. I wrote,
“Active British leadership of some more positive form of European Union is essential”.
Rather to my astonishment, three decades later, I found myself involved in the implementation of that wish. I became steeped in it in 1971-72, when we were engaged with the passage of the European Communities Bill. It lasted 53 days in the House of Commons. I made 91 speeches. We had 104 Divisions, and I was there for 325 hours. That was the first step in laying the framework for the positive achievements of the European Community, to which even my noble friend Lord Howell is willing to pay tribute. The second step was at a rather different pace. It was the Single European Act of 1986, which my noble friend Lady Thatcher enthusiastically supported. That took us only six days to get through the Commons, with the assistance of a guillotine. Those two formidable steps were taken without any form of referendum and were the foundations of all that has been achieved within the European Union: a partnership of co-operation in foreign policy and in the production of the single European market.
What I find so astonishing in listening to the peroration of my noble friend Lord Howell—and we have worked together in many partnerships over the years—with the resurrection of nation states bargaining with each other and forming new agreements quite independently of treaties and alliances that may have been embodied in the European structure, is that my noble friend’s dream would involve the disregard and destruction of almost all the European institutions we have created so far. He may wish to escape and yet retain all that, but the future can never be as simple as that.
I must confess that, having been involved in all those Acts years ago, I feel less well qualified to comment on any of these things. I can only listen with great admiration to the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell. The work he does with his many colleagues in this House in clarifying what we are about is of formidable importance, and it is particularly striking that this evening he dealt as clearly as he did with the enlarged role of the Parliaments as a result of the treaty we are considering. He went some way to offering me some comfort in relation to the passerelles. They are legitimate concerns.
The fact is that since we took those initial steps, there has been a significant change in the scene, the environment and the agenda that we in Europe have to address. In almost all these respects it has become more important, not less, for us to address those issues than it was at the outset; for example, economic liberalisation is now relevant on a global scale; the single market achievement within the European Union is to be reproduced with success in the Doha round; and so on. There are many further measures of that kind.
Beyond that, the agenda which is now so rightly being emphasised by my right honourable friend David Cameron in his leadership of our party is that of climate change, the environment and energy security. All those modern topics are additional items that call for a European approach to their solution. If one looks at the political world which the European Union is required to face, that, too, has enlarged as the years have gone by. Initially, we were grateful to the Union as it addressed the conflicts which were internal to our Continent from the Somme to Salerno and perhaps to Stalingrad. Those were the conflicts that we sought to tackle then.
At the next stage, we mobilised the European Union to help us tackle the much more wide-ranging Cold War from Washington to Moscow. In today's world, the problems we have to tackle in foreign policy extend more widely and less predictably than that—from Kosovo to Kabul to Korea. They are problems that engage much larger powers than those with which we modest European states can deal. I have spoken in the House recently about China; for example, the extent to which China is leading Shanghai Co-operation Organisation in drawing together not just the five or six “stans” that were once in the Soviet Union but also China and Russia, and, increasingly, with India, Pakistan and Mongolia as observers of that international organisation. The case for European partnership in foreign policy is underlined by that, and, even more so, by the resurgence, if that is the right word, of Russia. Dean Acheson once said that our country had lost an empire and was looking for a role. Russia is now playing that part under the leadership of President Putin, as he still is. As my noble friend Lord Hurd pointed out in a remarkable speech on 14 October at Norwich, in the early days of the Putin era our European leadership behaved in a not very impressive way. My noble friend described it as the “vain leadership” era, with heads of Government, not only European heads of Government, but also the President of the United States, rushing in to compete with each other and establish a more favourable picture of themselves with President Putin. The President of the United States actually claimed to see President Putin’s soul, he got so close to him. Fortunately, as a result of the changing style of Russian leadership, we now recognise the need for much more integrated policy development within the European Union and less of the competitive stuff.
I quote from the speech of my noble friend Lord Hurd where he emphasised the positive nature of this. He said:
“The possibility of acting with our EU partners as Europeans should be regarded as a welcome opportunity not a fearsome threat. Because of the unanimity rule in the EU, whether under the proposed new Treaty or the existing rules, Britain cannot be forced on any subject into a common European foreign policy of which it disapproves. But as in Iran, as in Palestine, as in the Balkans today there is everything to be said for acting as Europeans if we can reach agreement. I believe”—
my noble friend concluded—
“this is particularly true, but not yet achieved, in our dealings with President Putin and Russia”.
To facilitate this kind of partnership, the changes proposed in this treaty have been put forward; for example, the changes as a result of having a much larger Union. The enlargement of the Union is something for which our party, indeed every party in this country, has been campaigning. As a result, we have been able to nurture democracy instead of dictatorships, first in the Iberian Peninsula and thereafter throughout what used to be part of the Warsaw Pact. It is inevitable that we have to make the kind of changes that are contained in the treaty for decision-making purposes.
In foreign policy, we need also to have the changes made that concern themselves with the high representative of foreign policy. My noble friend Lord Waddington paints a picture of this foreign policy monster, this fearful creature somehow stripping away all our power in foreign policy. I do not regard the European institutions of that kind as threatening us; I regard them as amplifying our potential influence. We have to draw together our views with those of our European partners and be more clearly seen on the world stage.
To have got away from the six-month turnover presidency of the European Union is plainly nothing more than common sense. In the good old days I took part in designing a European Union presidency tie. The idea of having to design a new tie every six months, because the turnover is that fast, is absurd. To have a president for two and a half years is a much more sensible arrangement. And to have someone who is able to speak with the authority, backed by the Council as well as the Commission, of the High Representative is exactly what we want.
I come finally to the process of ratification. If ratification takes place at all, it will do so, as it did in relation to the Single European Act and the European Communities Act, with the consent of both Houses of Parliament. As I have said, I do not believe that it was right for the previous Prime Minister to promise a referendum in respect of this treaty. I commended the cause of referenda of the kind that I helped to design about Sunday pub opening in Wales every seven years on a county basis. That is an issue that can be plainly put to the electorate, and was so put; but a referendum on this topic is unnecessary.
I say one word beyond that; a word to those who would urge leadership of my own party, when elected, after the treaty has been ratified by the parliamentary process, exactly as it was in 1972 and 1986, to set about having a referendum on the approval or otherwise of the treaty. That would be a profoundly mistaken move. It would be entirely wrong to consider embarking on that course which might involve deliberately repudiating an international obligation. It would be extremely damaging to our position in Europe since it would inevitably be interpreted as a first step towards withdrawal from the Union. It would be equally damaging to our own domestic agenda to have the early years of a Cameron Government dominated by that problem, as the Labour Government of 1974 were, which is now some 30 years ago.
If one wishes to secure changes within the working of the European Union after this treaty has been ratified—and I can understand colleagues in any body wishing to do so—the right way to achieve them would be not by constantly threatening to make our way to the exit, but by becoming effectively engaged in the organs of the European Union. There, I feel one anxiety profoundly at present. If our country is to be effective in securing what we can achieve by discussion through existing and future organisations of the European Union and to be effective in amplifying our policy ambitions more widely, we need the kind of leadership in those institutions that is likely to persuade our colleagues, rather than making them turn away in despair and frustration.
I am not altogether convinced that our new Prime Minister will be able to address that topic in the right way. He has a disregard for staying at British embassies. During his time as Chancellor of the Exchequer, in one year, he attended Finance Council meetings only twice. That is no way to represent British interests and achieve British objectives in the European Union. He needs to be there; his Ministers need to be there. There again, I am concerned. It is not his fault, but during my six years at the Foreign Office—this is nothing to do with my decision-making—I had only two Ministers of State responsible for European policy: my noble friend Lady Chalker and my right honourable friend Malcolm Rifkind, for three years each. During 10 years of the Labour Government, there have been nine European Ministers who, with the exception of Denis MacShane, who survived two and a half years, had an average span in office of about nine or 10 months. We need engagement of a human and effective kind.
I hope that the Prime Minister will benefit from the story on which I shall close. It is quite a short one. At one European Council meeting under Danish chairmanship, when we were grinding close to Christmas Day—we were sitting at 2 am on the last night—the Danish Prime Minister, Mr Schlüter, finally said that we had to pack up, although we had not completed the agenda. We hastily began packing up our papers and, suddenly, to my astonishment, President Mitterrand, at the other end of the table, began holding forth as though it was doomsday, saying that if we were going to go on like this, we would find ourselves disintegrating and we might as well go back to the six nations with which we started.
When he finished, to my astonishment, my noble friend Lady Thatcher, who was sitting beside me, piped up. We were all waiting to go. She said, “It’s not been like that at all, President Mitterrand. It has been very good. We have not quite succeeded but, if you remember, under your presidency in Fontainebleau a year or two ago, we were able to complete the agenda. I am sure that the same will happen now, President Mitterrand, and that next year under Chancellor Kohl's leadership, it will all be right. So cheer up, Mr Mitterrand”. The president looked as though he had been smacked in the face by a wet fish, but only for a moment. He responded by saying, “Madame Thatcher is even more beguiling when she is saying yes then when she is saying no”.
I cannot imagine the present Prime Minister being able to evoke that kind of response, but that is what he ought to try for.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure—although it is unusual—for me to follow my noble and learned friend Lord Howe. He mentioned the start of his political career. My ministerial career was started by him when I was recruited as his Parliamentary Private Secretary. It was during the time of the passage of the Single European Act. There was a suspicion in my mind that the Whips might have thought that I might have been unsound on that issue. I voted for it. I thought that it was the right thing at the time, and I therefore hope that I will be spared the rather hysterical criticism that came from the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, not least in respect of some of my noble friends. Dismissing people in Denmark as eccentric and people in Sweden as funny simply because they do not agree with the noble Lord is a bit unfair, to say the least. I give him credit for having changed his mind about some fundamental things, so no doubt he will give other people the same slack.
I do not, however, give the Government credit for having changed their mind—
My Lords, how about becoming a Liberal rather than a Conservative? That seems to me to be a pretty fundamental change and shows a degree of confusion that I should have thought the noble Lord might have avoided, from my knowledge of him when he was a member of our party.
My Lords, he did indeed, and I am sure that there is some truth in it, but consistency has virtue.
The point that I was going to make is that I quite understand the Government changing their mind, but I find the speed and frequency with which they do so rather alarming. It is only a matter of weeks ago that we listened to the gracious Speech and were promised that the Government wanted to entrust more power to Parliament and the people. The Prime Minister, in his Statement in the other place, said:
“I can today make an immediate start by proposing changes that will transfer power from the Prime Minister and the Executive”.
He also said that,
“working together for change in a spirit that takes us beyond parties and beyond partisanship, we can agree a new British constitutional settlement that entrusts more power to Parliament and the British people”.
He went on to say that in,
“12 important areas of our national life the Prime Minister and the Executive should surrender or limit their powers, the exclusive exercise of which by the Government of the day should have no place in a modern democracy”.—(Official Report, Commons, 3/7/07; col. 815.)
I am very surprised that among those 12 areas was the power of the Executive to ratify international treaties. I am astonished that a Prime Minister who could say that to Parliament and, apparently, mean it, can abandon a manifesto commitment to provide a referendum.
I respect noble Lords who have a different view on the treaty from mine, but I find it difficult to understand how people can maintain a position of refusing a referendum. Now, just a matter of weeks since that Statement by the Prime Minister, we have this Christmas pantomime in which we are all engaged. The Government will sign the treaty in a week’s time in Lisbon. We do not even have the final text before us. As my noble friend pointed out in his excellent speech, not a word that we say here will make the slightest difference to the wording of the treaty or to the Government’s attitude towards it.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, told us that the message had gone out from Whitehall not to talk about Europe and to keep a low profile. If that is true, it is an absolute disgrace. That reinforces the view that the Government want the matter to be dealt with under cover of darkness. There is no better evidence of that than the noble Baroness’s speech, which was delayed today by a Statement. Here we are, late on a Wednesday night—I do not know whether it is a wet or dry Wednesday night—with not a soul in the Press Gallery, talking to each other. Nothing that we say will make the slightest difference.
It could be said: “Well, this is a non-elected House”, but every Member of the other place was elected on a manifesto that promised a referendum. Is it any wonder that the electorate show such contempt and apathy for our democratic process when people stand for election on a solemn promise and then renege on it within minutes of having been returned to Parliament? The worst thing about the refusal to have a referendum—it is an open secret and privately, in the bars and elsewhere in this place, Members opposite in both Chambers of this Parliament will admit it—is that it is not based on any high principle. It is based on the belief that a referendum would be lost. Here we have politicians promising things in their manifestos but refusing to deliver them because they know that they will not have the democratic authority to carry them out. That puts this unelected House, with its Salisbury convention, in a rather unusual position. The Salisbury convention says that we are not supposed to vote against anything that was in the Government’s manifesto. Does it work the other way around, and are we required to insist on things that were in the manifesto and which have been abandoned out of convenience? I do not know, but it is an interesting thought.
I am certain, however, that the Government’s behaviour is making a laughing-stock of the gracious Speech and grand statements from the Prime Minister about entrusting power to the people. No one summarised that better than Gisela Stuart, the Labour Member of Parliament, who has done so much work in this area and whom even the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, would not dismiss as some fanatical Eurosceptic, when she asked:
“If Labour can’t trust the people, why should the people trust Labour?”.
Indeed, she could have added the Liberals to that.
The Government’s line in defending this outrage is to say that it is an amending treaty concerned with institutional matters rather than a constitutional treaty that alters the relationship between the EU and member states. That is a ludicrous position. It is almost as ludicrous as the Government’s position prior to committing themselves to a referendum. They used to describe the constitution as not very important. The right honourable gentleman Peter Hain, who I believe is in the Cabinet, described it as a tidying-up exercise. While we were arguing for a referendum on that constitution, many noble Lords opposite also used that phrase and belittled the impact of the constitution. Then they changed their mind and decided that there should be a referendum. That deceit is being repeated here today. There was a deceit then, just as today the claim is a deceit and a betrayal. The change of mind on the referendum was nothing more than a shabby fix to get them through the 2004 European elections and the subsequent general election.
The treaty clearly alters the relationship between the EU and member states. I do not know whether Ministers read their own legislation—the evidence in recent weeks suggests that they do not—but any cursory glance at the treaty shows that what the Government are claiming simply does not stand up. There will be an EU president with 3,500 civil servants. There will be an EU Foreign Minister, albeit with a slightly changed title. There will be a diplomatic service and a legal personality so that the EU can join international organisations in its own right. There are provisions for the EU to grant itself new powers without an intergovernmental conference. QMV will be the norm, with national vetoes abolished in 60 new areas, including such vital areas as energy, transport and employment law. There will be new powers for the EU on criminal justice matters. The EU, not member states, will agree deportation and extradition agreements with third countries. The list goes on. In no way can the Government’s contention be sustained.
The Government are now defending their betrayal by arguing that the treaty is not the constitution. As a number of speakers have already pointed out, the German Chancellor and the Irish Prime Minister have refused to endorse that deceit. Both have said that the substance of the constitution is retained in the treaty. Perhaps the most interesting comments of all come from the fellow who drafted the constitution, Valery Giscard d’Estaing, who said that,
“the public is being led to adopt, without knowing it, the proposals that we dare not present to them directly”.
In a letter to Le Monde last week, he says that the treaty was designed,
“to avoid having referendums thanks to the fact that the articles are spread out and constitutional vocabulary has been removed”.
That was very honest, very direct and very embarrassing for this Government.
The European Scrutiny Committee, chaired by Michael Connarty MP, my old sparring opponent from my days in Stirling, found that,
“the Reform Treaty … is substantially equivalent to the Constitutional Treaty”.
The noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, might like to note that, in paragraph 50 of the committee’s report, the committee considered,
“that references to abandoning a ‘constitutional concept’ or ‘constitutional characteristics’ are … likely to be misleading in so far as they might suggest the Reform Treaty is of lesser significance than the Constitutional Treaty”.
The report also says that the treaty would,
“change the legal relationship between the EU and national governments”.
This Parliament does not belong to the Government. It is a sacred trust to maintain our democratic institutions. Its powers are not ours to give away, and at this late hour the Government should repent and deliver on their promise to give the people a say. It is not pro-European to create institutions that are not accountable or to surrender the freedoms and liberties that we are entrusted to defend. There will be a reckoning if the Government proceed as they intend, and it will be the destruction of the Government and the institutions built on deceit and imposed without the consent of the people.
My Lords, when future historians come to sift through the rubble of what was once our proud democracy, they may stumble on one sentence in last month’s Queen’s Speech that they identify as the tipping point—the moment when the breakdown of trust between the British people and their political class became irretrievable. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, has already picked up on that sentence, but it is so beautiful that it bears repeating:
“My Government will take forward policies … to entrust more power to Parliament and the people”.
When the Government wrote those words, they knew perfectly well that they were going to Lisbon next week to sign up to what is designed to be the final EU treaty, that that treaty consigns most of the remains of our national sovereignty to the clutches of the octopus in Brussels, that they had promised the people a referendum before they did so and that they were breaking that promise only because they had discovered that the people wanted none of it and would vote against it by a large majority. That they did all this in cold blood is proved by what the then Prime Minister said on 23 April 2004, before the French and Dutch rejection of the constitution:
“What you can’t do is have a situation where you get a rejection of the treaty and then you just bring it back with a few amendments and say we will have another go. You can’t do that”.
Yet that is exactly what the Eurocrats have done, and the Government are doing it, too.
This deception is underlined by statements from leaders of no fewer than 12 other member states that this treaty is indeed the same as the defeated constitution, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and other noble Lords have said. It is also underlined by what has been said by four more leaders, who assure us that the main difference is that the new treaty has been designed to be unintelligible to ordinary people. I am particularly fond of the quotation from Mr Karel de Gucht, the Belgium Foreign Minister, who said:
“The aim of the Constitutional Treaty was to be more readable; the aim of this treaty is to be unreadable … The Constitution aimed to be clear, whereas this treaty had to be unclear. It is a success”.
Our old friend Jean-Claude Juncker, the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, said:
“Britain is different. Of course there will be transfers of sovereignty. But would I be intelligent to draw the attention of public opinion to this fact?”.
The British people, however, are not fools. Their disdain for their political class in general, and of our membership of the European Union in particular, will only be deepened by this story, perhaps, as I have suggested, irretrievably. Let us look at those two developments separately. First Euroscepticism: several recent opinion polls suggest that this is on the increase, with about 80 per cent of respondents saying that they would vote to leave the EU if that meant regaining control of our borders. Some 67 per cent say that they would vote either to leave the EU or to reduce our relationship with our friends in Europe to one of free trade and intergovernmental collaboration. Up to 40 per cent say that they would vote to leave anyway.
I believe that this is because our people are beginning to understand the Eurosceptic case and to realise that they have been deceived for 32 years about the true nature and final destination of the project of European integration. That process started during the referendum campaign of 1975, when they were assured that continued membership of the Common Market entailed no loss of “essential national sovereignty”. I remember thinking at the time, no doubt with many others who voted to stay in the market, that that meant that we would not lose any sovereignty at all because all sovereignty was essential and indivisible. But the slippery Prime Minister of the day really meant that we would retain only such sovereignty as the Eurocrats and our political masters judged to be good for us while the rest was gradually ceded to Brussels.
That process, largely hidden from the people, has brought us to where we are today, with the majority of our national law imposed on us by a secretive system in Brussels. The people have lost the right to elect and dismiss those who make most of their laws and their hard-earned right to govern themselves, and they do not like it. That is why the Motion on the Order Paper says that we are here to “take note” of the forthcoming European Council in Lisbon next week. There is nothing that we or the House of Commons can do. As other noble Lords have said, we can protest and debate as much as we want, but we cannot change a word of the treaty that will be signed. That is why pressure is building up.
My Lords, we have had this exchange before and there is a great familiarity to this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, has asserted, as he has many times in this House, that when we had a referendum on membership of the European Community, people were not told the implications and that, indeed, they may even have been deceived to that end. I have to inform the House that I was involved with BBC programming at that time. There was no secret of the term “ever closer union”, for example, which was already in the treaties. I was involved in three programmes that looked closely at the history and the implications of that. It is simply not true that this was hidden from the British public.
My Lords, I am grateful for that intervention, which I have had previously. I think that I replied before that I accept that there were a number of insiders. Some people in the House of Commons may even have read the treaties, but the vast majority of British people did not. I stick to my guns: the British people were deceived into believing that they were voting to stay in a common market.
I may be alone, but I am not sure how much good it will do if your Lordships or the House of Commons insist on a referendum and the people vote down the treaty. Of course, we would avoid its frightening provisions, but I fear that we would be left stuck where we are in the treaty of Nice and that the other countries would proceed under the present Article 43 to enhance their co-operation without us. At least the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, who I regret to see has left us, and I agree that that may happen, although he thinks that Nice does not go far enough whereas I think that it goes far too far.
Be that as it may, most Eurosceptics believe that we would somehow reorder our relationship with Brussels in the confusion that would follow our failure to ratify the treaty. But I see no sign of any such desire in the breast of the Government or in the Conservative Party. Although I support a referendum as being a possible step in the right direction, for me the only sure way out remains the door.
However, in the hope that a referendum might lead to more radical change, perhaps I may point out one of the flimsiest arguments advanced by those who do not want a referendum; namely, that referenda were not granted on previous EU treaties after 1975, so there is no need for one now. This does not make sense because clearly there should have been a referendum on each of them. After all, the Single European Act 1986 handed over all our commerce and industry, and our environment, to the qualified majority vote in Brussels. It also paved the way for a common foreign policy and gave up the veto in 12 other areas of our national life. The Maastricht treaty of 1992 made us all citizens of the Union and let Brussels’ tentacles into justice and home affairs, education, public health, culture, consumer protection, trans-European networks and development, among other areas. We gave up the veto on a further 30 areas as well.
Amsterdam in 1997 handed over our social and labour policy to Brussels and let the Eurocrats into human rights, asylum and immigration, and police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters, and 24 more areas were moved to qualified majority voting. So it went on at Nice in 2003, with a further 46 areas given over to majority voting in the Council. Clearly, all those treaties should have been put to the people, as should be the proposed treaty of Lisbon, which cedes a further 61 areas to qualified majority voting and surrenders most of our remaining power to govern ourselves. Five wrongs do not make a right.
The other main plank in the Eurosceptic case is that membership of the EU is cripplingly expensive in cash and to our economy and that a great many jobs would therefore be created if we left and carried on our free trade with the single market. Against that, the Government claim that the EU is good for peace, whereas we hold NATO responsible for peace in Europe since 1945. The Government also claim that our EU membership allows us to do more on climate change, energy, cross-border crime, counterterrorism and the environment. We have heard a bit on that today.
If the EU is such a good thing for the environment, perhaps I may ask the Minister one specific question about fish. Why is the common fisheries policy not changed to allow our fishermen to keep all the fish that they catch so that we can eat them, instead of millions of tonnes being thrown back dead into the sea? I understand that the Eurocrats who designed the policy did not realise that most of the fish are dead when the nets come up and therefore were foolish enough to try to conserve stocks by limiting the amount landed at port. Why can that not be changed? If the Minister does not have a satisfactory answer at her fingertips, perhaps I may suggest that the Government raise this question at the Council next week and that then we have an answer.
I have one further question on the specifics of the treaty. I understand that most of the difference between the former constitution and the proposed treaty is accounted for in the fact that the symbols of the Union—the flag, the anthem, the motto and Europe Day—were in the constitution but have been left out of the treaty. However, this was not accepted by 16 countries, which yesterday tabled Declaration No. 52 saying that for them the symbols continued to express their allegiance to the European Union. As the UK is not among those signatories, where does that leave our legal position towards those symbols? I am aware that the Government have passed some questionable legislation allowing the EU flag to be flown in this country, whatever its EU legal status. But what is the position now? Dare we hope that the flag can be lowered for good and that poor Beethoven will no longer have to go on turning in his grave every time his “Ode to Joy” is played in such an unfortunate cause? I look forward to the Minister’s answer.
I said that I fear that the Government’s behaviour over this treaty will widen still further the gulf between our political class and our people, who already hold us in very low esteem. One can see their point. Over the past 50 years, we have brought this country pretty low: 40 per cent of our children leave primary school, and 15 per cent leave school, unable to read and write properly; our health service is in crisis; our police are overwhelmed; our prisons are bursting with the mentally ill and the illiterate; our transport system is inadequate; our Armed Forces are underfunded, overstretched and undervalued, and even their morale is beginning to crack; our border controls have been deliberately abandoned, so that our inner cities are increasingly uncomfortable and explosive places; and, most worrying of all, Islamist terrorists are on the march, many of whom are home grown.
Amid all this encircling gloom, I see only one light—the UK Independence Party. Only UKIP is telling the people the truth about so many of these issues, particularly about the extent of our ensnarement with the project of European integration and why the only answer is for us to leave it. That is why I joined UKIP earlier this year. I had given up hope that the Conservative Party would ever come clean and reach this conclusion in the time available. It seems to me that those who now lead the Conservative Party are guided largely by focus groups and that they lack vision. Where there is no vision, the people perish.
If Conservative spokesmen think that I am being unfair, could they answer one question? I am not sure which Conservative spokesman will wind up this debate, because there is not one on the speakers list. I can hope only that they have not fled the field already. Conservatives constantly tell your Lordships and the wider world that they are in favour of reform of the EU. They want it to be less interfering, less bureaucratic, looser, more open and ready to compete with the emerging economic powerhouses of the East, and so on. We have heard quite a bit of that today. My simple question is this. Given the need for unanimity in the Council for any treaty change, how will the Conservatives achieve this, assuming that they come to form a Government? How will they even achieve their stated aim of repatriating our social and labour policies? Are they not being naive, almost to the point of dishonesty, when they pretend that any reform of this project that meets the country’s urgent needs is possible? I hope that I am being unfair to my old friends and I look forward to their answer.
As to the Government—I know that this is a waste of breath—I urge them not to sign this treaty. Immense damage may result to this country if they do.
My Lords, it is a great honour to follow in the wake of the noble Lords, Lord Forsyth and Lord Pearson. I am reminded of the old bewhiskered comedian Jimmy Edwards, who used to preside over the family Glum, they who lived in a world of encircling gloom. Now we have their modern incarnation, the Euro-Glums. Indeed, one such Euro-Glum wrote to me, and doubtless to others, an unsolicited paper with the title The Red Lines are Worthless. He warned me that the EU was responsible for the destruction of the House of Lords, the destruction of the RAF, the destruction of the BBC and the destruction of West End shows. The EU was responsible for putting sat-nav systems in cars, cycle lanes, litter laws—including feeding ducks—and even,
“the poor old red London bus disappearing”.
Mention of the red buses and the red lines brings me to the conclusion that the Euro-Glums will never find anything satisfactory about the European Union.
The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, has now left the Chamber and is no longer in his place, but I should like to take him up on one point in his otherwise strong but misguided contribution to the debate. He parodied Peter Hain MP for describing in another place the constitutional treaty as a “tidying-up exercise”. The truth was that an element of it was tidying up in an attempt to simplify the raft of European treaties that we had had hitherto. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, in quoting my former colleague Karel de Gucht, said that the resulting reform treaty was less readable than the original one. This perhaps points to the fact that we have missed an opportunity to perform a service to the people of the European Union, and to simplify and explain better the conglomeration of treaties that we have had over many years.
I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. He is in the Chamber.
My Lords, what I said about Mr Hain was that he had justified not having a referendum on the constitution because it was just a minor tidying-up exercise and there was no need for one. I said that the Government then changed their mind and decided that there should be a referendum. I was comparing that to the position they are in today and said that both positions represent a deceit. In the previous situation the Government changed their position and I live in hope that they may do so again.
My Lords, I am grateful for that intervention, but my charge is that often the noble Lord and other Euro-Glums refuse to talk about the elements of either the constitutional or the reform treaties and simply refer to their genesis. In purporting to defend British values, the Euro-Glums are calling for a referendum, which is itself an un-British circumvention of established and well tried parliamentary practices, including those in your Lordships’ House. The red Benches are best fitted to examine the red lines of the reform treaty.
I notice also the invocation of various dignitaries from political life in the European Union. The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, mentioned Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. I heard him on the “Today” programme and he was less than keen on the British Government’s view of what had happened. He is, of course, a Euro-federalist and it is surprising that the noble Lord should choose to invoke him. It is noticeable that others are not invoked. An old friend from the European Parliament, Elmar Brok MEP, who leads the EPP on foreign affairs, was very angry that the British obtained the red lines they did at the negotiation. I was in Italy two days after the decision and I read the Italian publication La Republica of 20 October. It declared:
“La Gran Bretagna invece ha ottenuto tutto”.
In other words, Great Britain won the lot. That was a clear view from another country which is simply not reported or allowed for in the thinking on this important subject.
I congratulate Her Majesty’s Government on defending the red lines so assiduously. It is true that some tidying-up and clarification are still needed. The noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, helped with the question of the passerelle. But we need some assurances on that, on the charter of fundamental rights and on the status of the United Kingdom’s opt-outs and some of its opt-ins; we would like to know about any possible expiry dates.
My main purpose in speaking today is to say to Her Majesty’s Government that it is time to move up a gear from defending the red lines to defining the green lights—to tell the people the good things about the reform treaty. Her Majesty’s Government should celebrate sweeping away the defunct bureaucracy of institutions that were constructed principally at the time of the original six pioneering states. This is sensible reform which enables 27 EU countries to concentrate on the real issues confronting the European Union and the wider world that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, referred to—economic reform, terrorism and climate change. I heard a pleasing story the other day that the Champagne country in France would, as a result of climate change and global warming, move to Britain and we would be responsible for growing the grapes and making the wine in our own country if matters were not taken into hand.
We should celebrate giving continuity to the European Union councils by the longer two-and-a-half-year renewable presidencies, and having only one high representative—in foreign affairs—who is free to act only when all 27 states have spoken with unanimity. Also, reducing the size of the European Commission to make it more athletic in the way it responds to the changing world outside must be a sensible reform. Indeed we should celebrate your Lordships’ House and other national parliaments, which have new and strengthened powers, referred to again by the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, to intrude on Brussels law-making and not only to emphasise those elements of subsidiarity which would require national parliaments to make decisions, but—this is often forgotten—to make a judgment about whether proposed EU law is proportionate to the requirements that challenge and face us all. Do the Euro-Glums reject this giving of powers to the national parliaments to be able to scrutinise legislation? Indeed, as I understand it, the new treaty, which we should celebrate, enshrines the right of member states to leave the European Union if they so wish. Is that also rejected by the Euro-Glums?
We should celebrate the extension of QM voting to take us from the sclerotic to dynamic and vital areas such as the creation of energy policy, humanitarian aid and realising a common and foreign security policy that was agreed as long ago as 1992. I celebrate, and I ask the Government to do likewise, the double check on safeguarding Britain’s vote within the Council by the new form of what I call double-entry voting in the Council, thereby making Britain, as a large country, less vulnerable to the Lilliputian states that might otherwise circumvent our views. We should celebrate the extension of co-decision-making. Earlier in the debate the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, emphasised the role of the European Parliament. We should not hide the increasing of the democratic element of the European institutions under a bushel, but should celebrate it. I remind those who reject the European Union and the European Parliament, and there are too many of them, that when I was last voted into the European Parliament by the good people of Cheshire, I received over 100,000 votes.
I say to the Minister, who is batting—and battling—on the front foot, that the treaty is a good thing that will bring about its own rewards. The EU story is a good one. I shall give noble Lords an example from Sub-Committee F of the European Union Select Committee, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell. We went for a tripartite meeting with other national parliaments and the European Parliament, and we heard about the European Union arrest warrant, which was so berated in this country. We learnt from the director-general of the European Commission Justice, Freedom and Security department, Jonathan Faull, that 7,000 arrests had been made in the past year, a number that has doubled. That number reflects our increasing ability to catch the criminals and potential terrorists who might otherwise threaten the people of the European Union. Let us shout that from the rooftops and say, “This is because Europe has decided to get together to demonstrate and help the people of Europe not only to enjoy their freedom, but to create the prosperity that they deserve”.
When we come to the end of this Council and the reform treaty is signed, I would ask one other thing of our Prime Minister. This is only a little point, but I will say it. No one would describe the Prime Minister as a champagne socialist, but the next time the glasses are raised to celebrate, with champagne, the coming of another treaty that marks an advance for the British people within the European Union because such a treaty is signed, he too should get up and celebrate.
My Lords, three questions should be asked of the forthcoming treaty: is it different enough from the constitution to discharge the Government from their promise of a referendum; will it bring Europe closer to the people, as the declaration that launched it required; and will it make Europe more prosperous?
The offer of a referendum was not casual. Tony Blair frequently repeated it in the most categoric language and all the main political parties put the promise in their general election manifestos. I do not suppose the Liberal Democrats did so under Rupert Murdoch’s instructions. In any case, promises that prove inconvenient still have to be kept.
In even debating the new treaty we are implicitly accepting a fiction: that the treaty is significantly different from the rejected constitution. It is not. There is virtually no difference between the treaty and the constitution. As many of my noble friends have pointed out, almost every leading continental politician, including those who wrote the constitution, has admitted—or boasted—that the two treaties are substantially identical. Almost every independent academic study has reached the same conclusion.
You do not have to be an expert on the text to see that. All you need know is that 240 out of 250 new clauses are the same in the constitution and the treaty and that the constitution transferred 61 powers from member states to the Union, of which the new treaty replicates 60—and adds a couple more for luck. Even the red lines are the same. The only thing that is really different is that Tony Blair thought he could win a referendum if he explained the constitution properly, whereas Gordon Brown evidently thinks he would lose one. The Government have therefore suspended their trust in the people and have preferred parliamentary brute force to keeping their word.
By long tradition, as my noble friend Lord Forsyth has reminded us, your Lordships do not frustrate the will of the other place if a Bill reflects the Government’s manifesto. The reason is self-evident: the people have spoken. This time, however, it is the Government who seek to frustrate themselves, or rather their own democratic mandate. The people have indeed spoken—they elected a party committed to a referendum. In England a majority voted for another party that was also committed to a referendum. The Liberal Democrats, in third position, won many votes, again on the manifesto commitment of consulting the electorate. If the Government now use their majority to whip through ratification of the treaty, I believe that your Lordships should have no compunction in making any ratification by this House conditional on submitting the treaty to a popular vote. Far from being a break with tradition, we should count it a privilege that we have the right and the opportunity to uphold the express will of the people.
Of course voters do not always give you the result you want, but patronising them as incapable of understanding the issue and ignoring their wishes makes things worse. It makes them resentful and drives some of them, at least, into the arms of extremists. European voters everywhere already feel alienated from a remote Brussels political class, a class they cannot elect and cannot eject, which ceaselessly harries them with legislation that they cannot get repealed if it proves counterproductive. This is the famous democratic deficit. The European establishment frequently pays lip service to it, but it has no idea what to do about it because the obvious cure is devolution—to return some powers to the member states and stem the flood of centralising regulation. Most in the establishment prefer the disease to the cure, so much so that in the treaty they have removed the veto in numerous areas, making it easier to pass yet more laws, and they have introduced the Union into fresh policy areas, extending the scope for still further legislation under the jurisdiction of an activist court of justice. If you want your children to be rich, just advise them to grow up as EU lawyers.
To those who are not at the sharp end of wealth creation, complaints about regulation often seem to be just a typical business grumble. However, it is far more serious than that. More than half the businessmen questioned in a recent poll said that the costs of European laws now outweighed the benefit of the single market. That is a shocking and astonishing verdict until you realise that the acquis communautaire is 170,000 pages long. That is five and a half times the length of my Encyclopaedia Britannica; and that is before it is transposed into English law and decorated with our own lavish bureaucratic extras. According to Günter Verheugen, it costs €600 billion just to administer, which is more than the entire Dutch economy. That does not include policy costs, because the Brussels set does not do cost-benefit analysis if it can help it. It simply is not real-world economics to believe that, in the long run, Europe can compete effectively with China, India and the other Asian tigers, or with America, with burdens like that around our necks.
In due course, we shall no doubt go through the pointless exercise of examining this take-it-or-leave-it treaty line by line. As we do so, we should at least use the opportunity to remind ourselves of the good constitutional reasons why the then Prime Minister promised a referendum on its predecessor: the entry of the Union into areas previously sacrosanct for the member states, the insertion into the text of crucial matters affecting sovereignty—which had long been openly and strongly resisted by the Government—and the growing attributes of statehood such as legal personality, a long-term president, a quasi-foreign minister and a diplomatic service. Whether one likes some, or all, of these aspects of the treaty, one cannot get away from the fact that they are important and constitutional.
Throughout this process, when the treaty comes to us as a Bill, we should keep in mind those three tests that I mentioned earlier. Will the treaty help to remedy the democratic deficit; will it help the Union to be more competitive; and is it sufficiently different from the constitution to justify the Government going back on their promise? In each case, the answer is straightforward. It is no.
My Lords, a member of the general public, happening into this debate, might feel that he or she had stumbled on to an intensely private occasion. We are discussing points with which we are very familiar. Even the occasional exchanges of abuse have almost a Christmas-like feel about them. We recognise them. As we enter the festive season, it is rather like going into one of those Christmas occasions when a subject is suddenly raised and the rest of the family says, “Oh, Grandfather, you really don’t want to raise that again”. There is something of that feel to this debate.
However, I suspect that something else is happening in it. To use a different analogy, it is perhaps rather like the early stages of naval battle. What is actually going on this afternoon and this evening is that we are taking ranging shots. We are testing out positions; we are testing parameters of prejudice; and we are perhaps testing areas—I would not say of compromise—of common ground.
What is happening this evening is well worth while, despite the length of the debate. I detect that some of the ships of the line have slightly altered position. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, seems to have moved slightly. Mind you, it has been a steady progression and one has watched it in its various stages, but I seem to identify a slightly sharper and more attacking position tonight—but we shall see.
One of the strange characteristics of the premiership of Tony Blair was that, rather as this country flies the European Union flag on its embassies in different foreign countries but is reluctant so to fly it here in the United Kingdom, so the former Prime Minister tended to make his most enthusiastic European speeches in continental Europe rather than here in the United Kingdom. That was not an accident, but the result of certain timidity—I think that it is justified to use that word. He always had an eye and an ear for British public opinion, particularly as it might be expressed through the tabloid newspapers, and that produced timidity.
One of the strange aspects of the evolution of the European debate is that that timidity, over quite a long period now, has produced defeat on two fronts. It has produced defeat here in the United Kingdom, because timidity is not a characteristic with which one should confront the arguments of the Eurosceptics—one is not going to win the argument by evidencing a form of timidity. However, there is another front which is very important to the status, prestige and effectiveness of the United Kingdom. It is how these arguments, or rather these demonstrations of timidity, are perceived in continental Europe and among our allies. Perhaps I may share with the House an experience that I had a couple of weeks ago. I was attending a dinner and a public speech in the American Academy in Berlin. The main speaker was the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. The speech was focused primarily on the interesting topic of the future convergence of regulatory provisions on the two sides of the Atlantic, between the European Union and the Atlantic union, which is extremely important not only in accountancy but also in releasing a lot of the economic energy of the massive trade between the European Union and the United States. She used three times in the debate the phrase, “even in London, this argument might have resonance”. The assumption behind that was that a whole raft of arguments would have acceptance in all other European capitals, but that they might achieve it even in London. I am concerned by a growing sense among our friends—and the German Chancellor is definitely a friend of the United Kingdom, as she clearly is of the United States—but also among the more general public and media that Britain is already drifting into a point of disengagement. I read with no satisfaction—because it is not a fair comment, including in its criticism of the British Government—an article in Die Zeit about the change of the position of the Polish Government from one of some real antipathy to the reform treaty and other European matters to rather enthusiastic support, which is of great significance, as I am sure we all recognise. The journalist wrote:
“Above all, the British, who have always put the brakes on the integration process and weren’t much more constructive than Poland during the drafting of the reform treaty, won’t be able to hide behind that country anymore. If British politicians still want to block European integration, a common foreign policy or the new EU reform treaty, they will have to do it themselves”.
I do not agree with that because it is unfair, but the tone of the article should be the subject of concern to us. If that feeling, not only that the British will argue and complain, but also that their instinct at a quite fundamental level is towards disengagement, gains a grip, the leverage that is available to our Government and our ability to influence the future direction of Europe will be enormously diminished.
Many references have been made today to how the public will see these matters. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, will forgive me for my earlier intervention, reminding him that when I was involved in these matters a bit, and in the first referendum, there was certainly no attempt to disguise the purpose of a European Community moving towards ever closer union. However, I was very encouraged by a speech made at the Royal Television Society a few weeks ago by the new chairman of the BBC Trust, Sir Michael Lyons, who said that the trust had been carrying out its own polling on what young people want from the BBC. Some of the things they want are what one would expect, including,
“a wide range of interesting and enjoyable programmes”
“lots of fresh and new ideas”.
Were it not ever so? But then Sir Michael asked:
“But would you have expected that they would place very nearly the same importance on their third top priority—that the BBC should”,
in future months and years,
“‘ensure that audiences within the UK are aware of, and understand, what’s going on in the world’?”
Well, that remit involves understanding what is really going on in Europe.
What is really going on in Europe has nothing to do with tentacles. It has nothing to do with ensnarement, plot, or subterfuge. It is actually the fairly stumbling but nevertheless vital attempt by an enormously enlarged European Union to manage its affairs more efficiently, more effectively and, I hope, somewhat more democratically—and to keep the project going forward. Just to pause for a moment; if the process of the European Union genuinely faltered, and if we were sitting in this Chamber seeing the European Union not as it is now—without the success of enlargement or the euro—but as an organisation that was breaking up, and in which the processes and instincts for collective agreement had substantially faltered, we would be having a fearful and somewhat frightened debate. We would be facing an entirely different prospect for this country, and for all of us.
I fear I am sceptical about speeches telling me and others in one sentence, “All this is wrong; we wish to challenge it and want to stop it, but we are tremendously committed to Europe; we believe in Europe and we want everything to go forward”. That position is simply not tenable. We will, of course, want to do certain things differently in this country; and so will the Germans, the French, the Poles and others, including future new states. We either learn how to do that together within an agreed framework, or we risk break-up. That is why this slightly odd, ranging debate that we are having is important. It will be followed by many more, but let us have a sense—from the moment that this real debate is engaged—of what is at stake.
We are not playing with words here. We are not simply trying to score a point against the Government. We are not even trying to win points, or should not be, on who committed to what over a referendum. We are asking ourselves whether this European Union project is good for this country and can be managed well. I believe strongly that it is, and it can.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Richmond—more than usually so on this occasion. The question that he has asked is the one that I proposed to address, and almost in that form. We have different means of address, of course, but I agree that that is the substance and heart of what we have to debate.
Speaking late in an important debate such as this, I do not propose to indulge in repetition. I will try, if I may, not to bore the House. I will therefore not speak about a referendum. What I think about it is relatively unimportant. In fact, I am not really so keen on a referendum but, as I said on a previous occasion, the Conservative Party should have a manifesto commitment on it. I should say at once that I do not have the privilege of speaking for my party; I do not think that I ever have had, or ever shall. Yet, speaking for myself, I believe that we really have to resolve the heart of the problem that the noble Lord raised by having a manifesto commitment at the next general election to withdraw from this reform treaty. I have said it once, I say it again: that is at the heart of this problem, because the electorate will then have the opportunity to decide. It is for the people to decide, not your Lordships’ House or the other place. The best way of deciding is on a manifesto commitment, not a referendum. However, I will say no more about that, because I do not suppose that anyone agrees with me much.
Taking the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, I would love it if the Council could take stock when it meets, but I do not believe that that is a viable proposition at this stage. We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, for the European Union Committee’s report. If its advice is read carefully, it draws attention to the need for the Government to explain the manner in which the European Court of Justice will interpret treaty provisions. I talk of the heart of the problem, on which I propose to address the House. It also draws attention to the need—and I am using its words, not mine—for a government explanation on how the passerelle provisions will protect our national interest. On that, there is the report of the European committee from another place that the red lines could not protect our interests by reason—I come to it again—of the extended powers of the European Court of Justice in the exercise of its jurisdiction on treaty interpretation and of the extended powers of the Commission.
We may have to face up to rejecting the treaty, but we cannot do that before there is another Government, because, whether you like it or not, and I do not like it much, this Government is our Government. They have made an agreement and, having done so, that agreement has to be ratified, because in the order of international affairs you cannot make an agreement and then not ratify it. The only way to extricate ourselves from this situation now is, as I have suggested, on a manifesto commitment and an election. That is because another Government will not be bound by what this Government did.
In that context, it becomes relevant to consider what our global and national interests are. I go back to the remarks of my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford—I am using some of his ideas. We are concerned with our Commonwealth, our special relationship with the United States, from which we should never step aside, our financial global interests and our massively expensive defence structure and commitments. Those alone are wholly disparate from the concerns of the 27 or more member states of an enlarged European Union, which, incidentally, has already engaged the sensitivities of Russia, a matter not to be ignored.
This enlarged European Union, seeking its ever closer relationship, cannot operate without a form of administrative integration and harmonisation of customs and law, imposed by the Commission as a matter of administration. With 27 states, how on earth is it going to operate without a very tight administrative structure imposed on it? That has been reflected in a series of decisions made by the European Court of Justice, which has interpreted the provisions of the treaty in different cases always in favour of integration on the balance of a series of objectives that, under this treaty, include Articles 1 to 3. I never refer to cases in your Lordships’ House because I know that it is very boring to do so, but with that series of cases I think that the principle of the balance of objectives would be accepted as common ground. It certainly is by lawyers who know anything about it. However, as my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford said in a previous debate, we are already moving in the wrong direction. To avoid repetition, we can leave it at that.
The Government have, so to speak, supported ratification of this treaty on a series of ministerial assurances. One was that there would be no further step towards integration for 10 years; another was that there would be no adverse effect on employment in the United Kingdom; another was that competition law would remain unchanged. I am not going to read out my notes on that, as I have dealt with it at Question Time and on previous occasions and this is no occasion for an academic debate. However, it is an occasion to say that the principle of the balance of objectives is the manner in which the European Court of Justice will interpret treaty provisions in the exercise of a supranational authority. There is nothing in the way of the concept by which our courts make their decisions; it is a totally different form of dispensation of justice.
I am leaving the question of competition law and principle to the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn of Charlton, to deal with, as he dealt with it before on 9 October, at cols. 121-22 in the Official Report.
In conclusion, there is no cause for surprise that Russia should be sensitive about an overextending Union of integrated states on its borders. Indeed, the advice of the first Earl of Malmesbury would be welcome today, albeit that President Putin is not Catherine the Great. It would not have been expected that any dispute between the retention of state sovereignty insisted on by de Gaulle and a form of integration advocated by Jean Monnet which could not be resolved at Messina should be resolved by ratification of this treaty. It remains open; the door has not been totally closed. It was left open because there could not be agreement—left open in the Rome treaty to enable the Court to devise and implement its own procedures. At the UK accession to the EEC, the concept of integration was not accepted and, as far as I am aware, has never been accepted by the electorate, albeit that Governments have taken steps in that direction.
I conclude by referring again to my noble friend’s concept. He may be speaking for the party—I have no idea—but I am not. But at least he said, and I agree, for the reasons given, that the Government have taken a step too far in the wrong direction.
My Lords, the European Union has been in the grip of stalemate since the rejection by the people of France and the Netherlands of what was then the draft EU constitutional treaty in 2005, but the signatures appended to the completed treaty in Lisbon next week will, I believe, see the completion of the preparations for the expanded European Union. After years of navel-gazing, the EU can now look outwards and beyond its own boundaries. This is good news, not just for the EU as a whole but for the UK, although you could be forgiven for failing to discern that in the light of the almost unrelenting whingeing, carping and often manufactured outrage that characterises coverage of things European in much of our media, predominantly of the printed variety.
The same might be said for an increasing number of parliamentarians, and not just the usual suspects. The European Scrutiny Committee has been mentioned by noble Lords in the debate this afternoon and evening. It recently published two reports critical of the terms of the treaty to which the Government have agreed and seeking watertight commitments designed to “protect” the UK from the perceived Europe-creep said to be lapping not just at our national shores but at those of this very Palace. If that latter point sounds an exaggeration, I would direct noble Lords to the Select Committee reports to which I referred.
While the European Scrutiny Committee reaches a number of rational and eminently sensible conclusions—not least in respect of the manner in which national parliaments were marginalised and public debate curtailed during the intergovernmental conference process—it seems most put out by the stipulation in Article 8(c) of the treaty that:
“National parliaments shall contribute actively to the good functioning of the Union”,
and shall do so by respecting the principle of subsidiarity. The principle of subsidiarity is designed specifically to ensure that decisions are devolved downwards wherever possible and is now widely accepted by Europhiles and Eurosceptics alike. If a member state objects to being required to contribute actively to the good functioning of the Union, it is questionable whether it should remain in membership. I of course accept that such an outcome would have its attractions for many people, but surely the European Scrutiny Committee is not seeking to argue itself out of existence.
However, once the ink has dried on the treaty, the biggest hurdle will remain to be overcome: ratification in all 27 member states ahead of the European Parliament elections in June 2009. The UK is not the only country where there is talk of the treaty being the subject of a referendum, with the same demand heard also in Denmark, Ireland and the Netherlands. Not only do I not believe that a referendum is necessary, but I believe that it would be profoundly damaging, not just to the UK’s future role within the EU but perhaps, ultimately, to our very future as an EU member.
The prospect of the campaign around a referendum is one that I and no doubt many noble Lords would anticipate with foreboding, because it would present newspaper proprietors with an open goal, allowing them to pander to xenophobia and misrepresent every aspect of what the EU stands for, what it can do for the people of the UK and what positive contribution the UK can make to the development of the enlarged Union. As an example, a number of myths have been peddled repeatedly, despite firm denials from the Government and those involved in the process culminating in the reform treaty: an EU Foreign Minister will control our foreign policy; British embassies will be replaced by an EU diplomatic service; the UK will lose or have to vacate its seat on the UN Security Council; and so on. They are all no more than scaremongering, lacking any relationship with the facts, which those who continually circulate such disinformation know perfectly well. What the treaty will do, however, is increase the effectiveness of a Europe speaking with a common voice on the threats and challenges that face the world. My noble friend the Lord President outlined some of those in opening this debate, touching on places as diverse as the DRC, Iran, Burma and Kosovo.
I have referred to some of the more minor matters on which the waters would be muddied and people misled, but a referendum on the treaty could not be other than deeply divisive, possibly causing damaging splits, with advocates of both sides of the argument emerging within the political parties, as many will recall happened in 1975. The Government have decided that the matter should be the subject of debate and decision in Parliament. I welcome that and I look forward to the treaty being discussed in detail in your Lordships’ House in the spring.
Mr Jim Murphy, the Minister for Europe, stated recently that the new treaty is different in legal structure, legal consequence and policy content from the original draft constitution. The draft would have, in effect, abolished the European Union as we had come to know it and refounded it in a single document. As a result of the intergovernmental conference, things have moved on. We now have a modification of existing treaties. For that to be taken to Parliament for decision is not at all unusual because, over a lengthy period, the European Union has produced a series of revisions and treaties amending its rules, from Maastricht to Nice—the former certainly of more fundamental importance than the reform treaty—and each of those has been the subject of votes in your Lordships’ House as well as in another place. That has been an accepted view across the parties and is thus an established means of ratifying treaties. I say as a not unimportant aside that it will also prove much less damaging for the UK’s reputation and our influence in Europe and beyond.
The aim of the new treaty is to make the enlarged EU work more effectively. Many of its clauses are designed to improve the internal functioning of the Union, the way in which it implements foreign policy decisions and its efforts to combat crime, terrorism and illegal immigration. With a clearer, fairer voting system and a smaller Commission, neither of which becomes operational until 2014, the EU will be better able to operate as an expanded body incorporating 27 rather than 15 member states.
With the UK’s four so-called red lines having been successfully pursued at the Brussels summit and secured during the IGC, the path is clear for the reform treaty to be ratified by Parliament. While I understand the Government’s determination to achieve their aims on each of those red lines, I can support their position on only three of them. I cannot do so in respect of the opt-out from the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Some people whom I know are generally pro-European Union but feel so strongly about this issue that they are calling for a referendum in the hope that the British people will vote against the treaty, which would then fall. I understand that as a tactic but do not believe that it is proportionate. The destruction caused by the UK vetoing the treaty would, I believe, propel this country significantly down the road—perhaps beyond the point of no return—towards the gate marked “Exit”. That outcome would be deeply damaging. I am aware, of course, that that is precisely the outcome that many of those demanding a referendum on the treaty have as their ultimate aim, but as a country we are unquestionably stronger and more effective inside the tent than we could ever be outside it.
That said, I return to the charter. It is surely not right that UK workers and citizens will have fewer rights than those in the other EU member states. Can it really be the case that the UK economy can prosper only by treating UK employees worse than their counterparts in other parts of Europe? At the Brussels summit in June, Poland was the only other member state to opt out of the charter, although following that country’s change of Government two months ago that will now change—as my namesake the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Richmond, recently said—leaving the UK isolated on this issue, I regret, as on others.
Why is it that so often we not only are isolated but appear to feel the need to be isolated? It is almost as if Governments of both hues have felt it necessary to don a hair shirt in deference to the excesses of the anti-European media. I was in the European Parliament last week and that very question was asked of me by Members of the European Parliament whom I met from three member states. The discussion centred on the reform treaty and I was asked why the UK always seemed to feel the need to stand apart, to be different and to be such a reluctant guest at the EU party. “We want you as full members, not associate members”, was their telling comment. Scotland’s national bard, Rabbie Burns, wrote of how valuable it would be,
“tae see oorsels as ithers see us”.
I got a clear expression last week of how others in Europe see us Brits and it was not very pleasant.
We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, in a typically pithy peroration, that giving support to developments that improve the operation of the European Union need not be interpreted as undermining national sovereignty. I certainly agree with that. Today another example has appeared, although in this case the UK is not entirely isolated, as Germany and Ireland sided with us at a meeting of European Employment Ministers to discuss the agency workers directive. This was first proposed five years ago and would stop employers giving temporary staff less pay and pensions and fewer holidays than those employed side by side on a permanent basis. Such a move would benefit 8 million workers throughout the European Union, but our Government are opposing it, accepting the CBI’s view that some people in the UK choose to work on temporary placements and value the flexibility that that gives them. No doubt that is true in some cases but, as the TUC points out, there is another side to the coin. Too many employers have replaced permanent staff who had reasonable terms and conditions with insecure agency staff. The Government will no doubt say that it is not their intention for employment flexibility to operate in that way, but that is how it is operating in all too many cases.
I have not yet heard of the outcome of today’s discussions, although I have little doubt what it will be. It really is time that these sorts of injustice were brought to an end. That would have the dual benefit of not only ensuring that all employees in the UK were treated fairly, which is hardly an extravagant aspiration in this day and age, but assisting our progress towards ground on which our fellow EU member states seem to be quite comfortable and wish us to join them.
I hope that once both Houses have ratified the reform treaty—as I am confident they will after suitably robust and lively debates—we might see the UK play a more central role in taking forward the new Europe that has been created by the admission of the accession countries. The noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, outlined the benefits of the new treaty to Parliament and my noble friend Lord Tomlinson highlighted the benefits to EU institutions.
Many other positive reasons have been advanced by noble Lords during this debate as to why the new treaty should be welcomed. I wish to highlight just one of those, which is the increasingly pressing issue of climate change. It is self-evident that meaningful action cannot be contemplated on a national basis; it must involve co-operation on a much wider basis, of course, than simply the member states of the European Union. Some satisfaction can be taken from the fact that the role that the EU can play in combating climate change is understood by EU Governments. As many noble Lords will know, the European Council in March agreed an ambitious target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent by 2020. When the EU works jointly, its voice on the world stage is powerful. I want to see the UK increasingly engaged and increasingly influential in the many challenges that the EU faces in the years ahead.
My Lords, when I heard the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, suggest that the Conservatives should have a manifesto commitment for withdrawal from the European Union, I could hardly believe my ears. Whether that will find favour with my erstwhile friends on the Front Bench I do not know. I thought I saw the noble Lord, Lord Howell, turn a whiter shade of pale when he heard that. We will see; I do not expect him to have to answer that this evening.
I will draw your Lordships’ memories back to the Laeken declaration. How many noble Lords remember that? I know that the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, did, but he was on the substitutes’ bench during the later convention. That was when, if noble Lords recall, the leaders of the European Union finally recognised that perhaps the people of European Union states were fed up with not being consulted, with their views not being taken into account, with deals being done behind closed doors and with the apparently incessant transfer of powers from their parliaments to the centre, to the unelected bureaucrats in Brussels. The Laeken declaration proposed returning powers to member states, to national and local level, at least to give the appearance if not the reality of some sort of redress of what has been referred to as the democratic process.
Even those minimal fig leaves for sovereignty and national parliaments were soon swept away during the subsequent convention under Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, which was given such a resounding raspberry by the French and Dutch electorates. I am rather sorry that they voted against the treaty, because it deprived us of having our say. Had the French and Dutch voted “Yes”, we in this country would have had a referendum; no prizes for guessing what the result would have been. The French and Dutch votes effectively allowed Mr Blair to slip out of his commitment to give us a referendum. The French and Dutch votes did not even dent the Eurocrats’ determination to press on with further integration. They went on as though nothing had happened. As Mr Juncker, the Prime Minister of Luxembourg put it:
“If it’s a yes we will say ‘on we go’ and if it’s a no we will say ‘we continue’”.
That is democracy in action for you.
So after what was amusingly called a period of reflection, the Eurocrats have come back with the reform treaty, which is a sort of constitution in drag, if you like; Tommy Cooper dressed up as Widow Twanky. I do not want to do the heads of state of the members of the European Union an injustice; they have been very honest about what the reform treaty is. It is the constitution. I will not weary your Lordships by going through the list. The noble Lords, Lord Waddington and Lord Howell, mentioned all the many heads of state who have said that this is just the same thing as it was before. You can take your pick; 90 per cent or 99 per cent the same, it is the treaty by another name.
In preparing for the debate, I looked up the blog written by Giscard d’Estaing. Obviously it is in French, and I have translated it. In case any noble Lords think that I am traducing him in my translation, I have a copy here, which anyone is at liberty to look at. He says:
“I have given myself the task of comparing the new Lisbon treaty with the Constitution on the ‘nine essential points’ published on this blog. To my surprise and in truth, to my great satisfaction, these nine points are repeated word for word in the new project. There is not a single comma that has changed”.
The “nine points” are: legal personality; the fixed presidency—he notes with some satisfaction that Germany will not get the presidency for another 13 years; the Minister for Foreign Affairs; definition of competences; the legislative procedure; national parliaments’ role; number of commissioners; confirmation of the Commission’s sole right to initiate legislation; and the rules on QMV. The man who wrote the constitution says that there is no change. Let us not pretend that it is different.
He went on to answer a question asked by someone on his blog who was worried about the right of member states to leave the Union. He says:
“Don’t worry about that. It was in the Constitution as well, as a reply to the intimidation campaign run”—
the noble Lord, Lord Dykes will recognise this—
“by the ‘anglo-saxon eurosceptics’”—
who on earth can he mean by that?—
“who made the EU sound like a prison from which there was no escape”.
He goes on to say, unblushingly:
“This is in the text simply to underline that membership of the EU depends, like any great democratic act, on popular approval”.
That is, la volonté populaire. I assume that means Giscard d’Estaing wants to have a referendum. He wants popular approval for the treaty. Or does he? I do not know. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Watson, could answer that for me.
What popular approval has there been? This goes to the heart of the whole debate on Europe, as my noble friend Lord Pearson has said. There is the undoubted feeling in this country that we have been conned on Europe and that we have not been told the truth for a very long time, going right back to the early days of our entry to the Common Market—not, pace the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Richmond, the European Community; we voted for the Common Market in 1975, not the European Community—when we were told that there would be no essential transfer of sovereignty. Try telling that to the people of this country now; now that we have given away our powers over trade, immigration, social policy, energy, the environment, farming and fisheries. Try telling that to the people now that we have a European Parliament, a European Court of Justice, a European flag and a European anthem. I remind your Lordships that all that has been given away and transposed to Brussels without the people of this country ever being asked if that is what they wanted.
Here we are again, proposing to give away yet more powers without the permission of the people of this country and without a fight, telling another blatant whopper that the treaty is not a constitution because it has no constitutional character, even though it gives the EU legal personality, abolishes the national veto in 60 areas, creates a Foreign Minister and diplomatic service, and reduces our ability to block EU legislation by up to 30 per cent, as well as providing the means to transfer more powers to Brussels without consulting national parliaments at all. Kafka could have written the script.
The red lines have been effectively disposed of by others, particularly by the committee in the other place. Just under six months ago, on 24 June, the Prime Minister said that it was a matter of honour and trust. He said:
“the manifesto is what we put to the public, we’ve got to honour that manifesto. That is an issue of trust for me and with the electorate”.
The more the Government talk about honour, the faster we count our spoons. We were promised, finally, a long-overdue referendum on our relationship with the EU. We were promised that; it is a fact. Now the Government are trying to wriggle out of that promise, which is shameful.
Fundamentally, this is about democracy. As the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, said, the last time that people in this country had a vote on Europe was 32 years ago. No one under the age of 50 has had a vote on whether we want to give more powers away to the European Union. We have been asked neither that nor whether to take powers back—or even to leave the EU, which is what my party wants. I ask both Lord Watsons, what would be disastrous about actually leaving the European Union? Is it disastrous to be freer, to run our own trade, immigration or foreign policy? Is it disastrous to have powers in our elected Parliament or not to give away £14 billion every year to the European Union? Would it be disastrous to run our own agriculture and fisheries? Of course not. Masses of countries outside the EU prosper. We are the fourth or fifth biggest economy in the world, depending on whether or not you believe the Chinese statistics. Of course we can prosper outside the EU. We can trade with it perfectly happily, even though we trade at a massive deficit. The scare story that we need to be in the EU as a trading, financial and political necessity is simply a sham—a scare story that is not true.
I come back to the Laeken declaration. Is it not ironic that the Government are to give away more power without public consent? The Laeken declaration’s aim was to reconnect—I think that that was the word—with the voters. Why are the Government running scared of a vote if they want to reconnect with the voters? Is it because they might lose it? That would be democracy in action. If they lose the vote, they lose it. That is reconnecting with the voters. I thought that that was what Governments wanted to do. It seems that we are getting back to the position where the man in Whitehall knows best. If that is the case, it will be very dangerous.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, even if I do not accept some of his conclusions. In an attempt to be brief I have engaged in the perilous venture of adapting my notes so as not to repeat much of what has already been said.
First, I want to say to my noble friend Lady Ashton that I am sure that whatever conclusions noble Lords reach they have no doubt about the ambitious aims which she set out for the Government in regard to this reform treaty. It is what we are supposedly here to discuss. Many noble Lords have ventured into historical and future realms that have little to do with the treaty. We are grateful that my noble friend gave an introduction that was, in my humble opinion, very useful. The House has a duty to examine the likely effects of this treaty. It has effects on our law and, if one speaks frankly and accurately, it has effects on our constitutional practices.
The streamlining in the evolving form of the amendments alters the relationship between our practices and those of the European Union. I hope that our debates that follow this debate, of which there will be many, can be engaged in without acrimonious styles of speech. Indeed, I welcome especially what the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, had to say about the work of the European Union Committee in attempting to assist us in our debates on the ratification Bill. I wish only that I were more directly engaged in the committee’s work, but we will thank him for the results that he produces with it.
It appears to be customary to say something about how one has approached this moment in our history. I have spent some 40 years in scholarly life working with friends and colleagues in western Europe, especially in France, Europe and the Nordic countries in the comparative law of our social affairs, especially as regards employment. I have to say to the House that I cannot easily fit into one of the boxes that some noble Lords insist one must inhabit, either as a pure Europhile or Eurosceptic. They usually add some remark that their views must be somehow infected with poison or undue prejudice. That approach is in parallel absurdity to the line in Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Iolanthe” that every little girl and boy alive must be either a liberal or a conservative. We on these Benches know that to be wrong and absurd, however many Benches people inhabit in their lives.
Our debates will profit better if varying views can be discussed rationally and with the usual tolerance of the House. Indeed, some noble Lords this evening should have had in mind the guidance on pages 50 to 53 of the Companion that one should not refer to Members of another place in a personal manner and that Standing Order 33 refers to asperity of speech. I hope that our debates can reach a slightly different plane from the speeches of some noble Lords, most of whom have left. I do not refer to the two or three speeches that preceded mine.
I had wished to address four aspects of the treaty—the so-called passerelle articles, the Court of Justice, the charter of fundamental rights and the United Kingdom’s protocol, which currently is No. 7. My greatest problem arises from the evolving texts that have been extremely difficult to obtain, but I have had much help from the Library. As to the final text, we still do not know how each word will be placed. On 20 November, at col. 738, my noble friend Lady Ashton said that the texts were still being worked on—exactly as I had believed. She believed that she could present the final text to the House,
“very soon. I cannot say when, but I am told that it will be very soon”.—[Official Report, 20/11/07; col. 738.]
The document placed in the Printed Paper Office today was the latest text of rather opaque amendments to the existing treaty. We are now to have two treaties, the treaty of the European Union and the treaty on the functioning of the European Union. Only last week, I understand, the whole thing was about to be renumbered. It is difficult to know how the European Court of Justice would approach some of the phrases that are being worked on. The ECJ is of course the supreme court for what broadly amounts to our constitutional affairs—at least, for the aspects that are covered by the treaty which are very wide indeed. The passerelle clauses are the articles that allow the Council to move by unanimous vote from unanimity to qualified majority on issues that include revisions of the treaty. They were explained in the Statement of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister on 22 October in the following way. He said that,
“we propose to build further safeguards into the legislation … we will make a provision in the Bill”—
that is, the ratification Bill—
“that any proposal to activate the mechanisms in the treaty that provide for further moves to QMV, but which require unanimity of member states, will have to be subject to a prior vote by this House”.—[Official Report, Commons, 22/10/07; col. 22.]
I carefully checked Hansard on this matter.
The European Court of Justice will not regard as a binding source of law a vote in this House. That is quite apart from the question, which I have to leave aside, of whether both Houses should be involved. The European Court of Justice will look only at what is in the treaty. I understand that the current text of the treaty affords to us a paragraph which states that,
“if a national parliament makes known its opposition within six months of the date of such notification”,
of a proposal—to use a passerelle clause—then the decision referred to in the first and second subparagraphs will not be adopted. It is very unusual for any other body to apply a time clause to what this House and this Parliament should do. It is unusual and it is also something that the German and Italian constitutional courts objected to when the European Court of Justice developed its doctrine. It is a development of the doctrine of the Court—and it is far more than a doctrine based on texts in the previous treaties—that it is a supreme court of an activist kind and it can develop in a most positive way the meaning of what is called the “new legal order” of the Community as it was.
In a judgment in 1992—I shall quote only one sentence—the Court said:
“As the Court of Justice has consistently held, the Community treaties established a new legal order for the benefit of which the States have limited their sovereign rights, in ever wider fields, and the subjects of which comprise not only Member States but also their nationals”.
That quotation fairly summarises many other judgments in which the Court has developed its position. Because that is so, the Court’s interpretation of the treaties constitutes our highest national law in the field covered by them. Some of us hold that that is especially important in regard to the social protections available in this globalised world—especially for people at work. The Court of Justice already determines the meaning of the very positive side of European law—a positive side that touches on sex equality, the prohibition of discrimination, and the protection of work transfers and the like. But the legal base of European social policy is now in the balance.
In his expert book, Labour Laws and Global Trade, Professor Sir Bob Hepple recorded that after a judgment in 1999 the European Court of Justice,
“came to recognise the possible conflict”,
between, on one side, articles establishing employers’ economic rights to freedom of movement of goods and so on and, on the other, social rights that commentators find inherent in the treaties. With one exception, it is very difficult to find texts on which to base that social dimension. The one exception is the European Charter of Fundamental Rights.
At the European level, the charter of fundamental rights, adopted at Nice, was and is regarded by most member states as binding and, as mentioned by one noble Lord earlier, as being a charter on which their nationals could no doubt rely in the common method of their legal system. This is very important because only next week the European Court of Justice will deliver two judgments which will be fundamental to this conflict between the economic rights of employers on the one side and, on the other, the so-called rights of workers’ organisations collectively to bargain and even to take industrial action. One writer, Dr Ann Davies of Oxford—not the home of extreme radicalism— said in a headline article that this occasion will be:
“The Right to Strike Versus Freedom of Establishment in EC Law”.
Two opinions are given by the Advocates-General, Maduro and Mengozzi, who offer a parallel perspective. If in fact the Court decides that the economic article of rights of freedom of establishment and freedom to offer services in any state can be restricted or interrupted by industrial action in collective bargaining, there will be a very difficult situation.
That should lead me, although I apprehend that I shall not be able to deal with it in detail, to the protocol—currently No. 7—which the United Kingdom has successfully bargained to be part of a legally binding protocol to the treaty. It is in two parts. The first states that the European Court of Justice cannot extend its jurisdiction to give the charter any legal force in the United Kingdom. The court that decides whether it is extending its jurisdiction is the European Court of Justice. The second part states that nothing in the charter is to be justiciable unless it is included in United Kingdom law. However, that second limb has the words,
“in particular, and for the avoidance of doubt”.
On the avoidance of doubt, many writers at least raise the question of whether the European Court of Justice will be able to avoid that conclusion because “avoidance of doubt” accepts that there is a doubt. In parallel cases, which I have not time to explain in detail, the Court has used precisely that sort of argument. The case in which I think it would arise is, as another noble Lord said, one brought by a citizen of another member state.
The charter is therefore of great importance in the reform treaty and I hope that we will have further occasions to advert to the protocol. Such fundamental legal questions which test how far the treaty’s neo-liberal economic ambitions allow for social protections that intervene on them were, unhappily, not at the centre of any discussion in the IGC. They will, however, be at the centre of further juridical developments in the Court of Justice and may eventually have profound effects on whatever text is finally agreed. This House and another place will have to see how far they can influence the ratification Bill in advance of that problem. Some noble Lords have said that we can have no influence at all. That is a despairing plea which echoes a widespread feeling.
When the Government meet continuing requests, as they will, including from the grass roots of our own party, for some voice for the people on this new arrangement which deeply affects our constitution, the absence of such preparation to meet those problems on which there is now a vast literature will, I fear, have very unfortunate consequences for the Government whom I support.
My Lords, Britain's relationship with the European Union has been an issue of political tension since we joined the Common Market, as it was then known, in 1973. The reason for this is simple: that our relationship with the European Union is of immense importance. It is not just the large amounts of money that the European Union spends. It is not just the enormous amount of trade that occurs within the European single market. It is, fundamentally, that we are engaged with our European partners in a unique sharing of sovereignty. It is this question of how to share sovereignty between national Governments and the European Union, and the exercise of power that flows from this, that has led to the furious political debate on Europe over several decades.
The latest form of this debate is the consideration of the proposed treaty of Lisbon, also known as the reform treaty. I fully support my party's proposal for a referendum on the reform treaty. There is a moral obligation for this in that the Conservative Party fought the last general election on a promise of holding a referendum on the EU constitutional treaty. Although the question of how different the EU constitutional treaty and the reform treaty are has generated a great deal of debate, I am confident that the reform treaty is largely the same as the constitutional treaty. I come to this conclusion with the support of the European Scrutiny Committee of the other place, which has described the reform treaty as “substantially” the same as the European Union constitution. Let us not forget that that committee has a Labour majority and not a Conservative one.
Beyond the moral obligation of honouring an election pledge, I believe that it is important that the public have a vote on the reform treaty because of the ever growing divide between the British electorate and European politics. One indication of that was the turnout at the European parliamentary elections in 2004, when only 39 per cent of people voted. In other words, six out of a possible 10 voters ignored that election. A public vote on the reform treaty would be a once-in-a-generation chance for our relationship with the European Union to take centre stage in public life, just as occurred in 1975 over whether we would remain part of the then Common Market. It would be a great opportunity for those opposed to surrendering further powers to Europe to make the case against to those who sincerely believe that giving extra powers to the EU institutions is in Britain's national interest.
A number of politicians hold the honourable belief that we live in a parliamentary system and that we should therefore not need to resort to referendums. The problem with this argument is that, since the 1975 referendum, referendums have become part of our political process in regard to constitutional change. There were referendums on Welsh and Scottish devolution in 1979 and 1997. Every local council has the right to call a referendum if it wishes to introduce a directly elected mayor. So while I respect those that make this argument, British constitutional practice has moved beyond it. A debate of this nature could actually be civilised, and a much greater understanding of, and engagement with, the question of Europe by the British public will occur. Of course there will be voices in the debate which prefer to criticise our views, but that is the nature of an open and robust democracy. I have more than enough confidence that voters will see through this and get to the substance of the issue; namely, the balance of power between Westminster and Brussels.
The final question that people ask is: what would happen if Britain voted no in a referendum? Many of those in favour of the treaty suggest that there could be a doomsday scenario, where Britain would be forced by all the other countries of the European Union to face a stark choice: either ratify the treaty or leave the Union. The problem with this argument is that it is not supported by the practice of the European Union. When Denmark voted against the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, it did not lead to such a choice. Rather, it led to a further negotiation which produced the Edinburgh agreement, which gave the Danes a number of exceptions. In an irony of history, the Danish Prime Minister has promised that he will ask the Danish people to give up these exceptions in a referendum in the near future.
Not only must we trust the British people in a vote on this issue, but we must have the confidence to engage with the electorate and abide by their decision. If they vote against the treaty, the Government and politicians must deal with that and go back to our European neighbours and renegotiate. On the other hand, if the result of the referendum is to support the treaty, those who are opposed to it must acknowledge the will of the people and accept that the treaty in its current form will be ratified and move on.
In conclusion, my greatest fear is that, without a referendum, the gap between voters and politicians over Europe will only grow. It will not be good for a semi-detached electorate to have more decisions that affect their lives made in Brussels without the debate of a referendum and the endorsement of a positive vote in favour of the treaty. In the long run, no sensible person wants this disengagement to occur because it will contribute to an even wider political disengagement, undermining the legitimacy not only of the European Union and its institutions but, to some extent, politics in this country.
My Lords, everything that I wanted to say about the reform treaty has already been said eloquently, and sometimes more than once, by other noble Lords this evening; that is the problem with being the 20th on the list. So I intend to take up one or two points which the noble Baroness the Lord President of the Council raised in the eulogy of the European Union in her opening remarks.
Beforehand, however, I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, is not in his place. He criticised the idea of a referendum, and said that he had great forebodings about it because referendums were divisive. First, the referendum held in 1975 was a healing process for the Labour Party, not a divisive one. Without it, the Labour Party was in danger of exploding, which I know because I was a Member for it in the other place. Secondly, I believe that the noble Lord, as a good Labour man, would have been in favour of the referendum in Scotland on whether it should have its own parliament. I am sure that he supported it and went out to vote in it. Thirdly, a country is not isolated because it does not join another organisation. Indeed, this country is a member of an organisation which embraces nearly a third of the world’s population: the Commonwealth. How can we be isolated if we are a member of the Commonwealth? And even if we were isolated, after the Act of Supremacy this country pulled itself up by its bootstraps and became a great empire and a great power in the world. So sometimes isolation is quite clearly good for you.
The noble Baroness the Lord President of the Council said that this treaty will settle the institutional debate for the foreseeable future. I do not know how far ahead the foreseeable future extends, but I have been hearing that almost all my life. People say about every European treaty, “That’s it. We’ve done it now”, but then something else happens. We had the constitution, and now have this treaty, which is the same as the constitution, because of enlargement. Enlargement meant more centralisation and therefore we had to have this new treaty. But there are more enlargements to come: Turkey is to come; Kazakhstan is probably going to come; Ukraine is going to come; Bosnia is going to come. Then people will say that because of all the additions, we need another treaty and more centralisation. I take the claim that we are all right for the foreseeable future with a pinch of salt. Let us look at what Mr José Sócrates said when he was commenting on the European Union reform treaty. He said that this treaty is not the end of the story because there is no end, so I have confirmation of what I am saying from a distinguished source.
Let us look at the question of peace in Europe, raised by the noble Baroness the Lord President of the Council. Peace in Europe since 1945 has not been kept by the EC, the Common Market or the European Union; it was guaranteed by NATO and the armaments and weapons of the United States. It was nothing to do with the Common Market or the European Union. That persists today because the countries of the European Union refuse to spend sufficient on defence—and that includes this country. Let us not hear any more about the EU keeping peace in Europe. It is nonsense.
The noble Baroness also mentioned trade and boasted about the £150 billion of exports that we send to Europe every year. She failed to mention that we import £186 billion from the European Union, so we are in deficit by £36 billion a year on our balance of trade. The total accumulated deficit since we have been in is about £230 billion. She ought to take those things into account during her next eulogy.
She did not mention farming. What a disaster farming has experienced as a result of our membership. The number of people working in farming has halved. We have lost 500,000 jobs in farming and it is difficult for farmers to make a living at present. Our fishing waters have been depredated. We are throwing back edible fish, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, because of an edict from the European Union. How sensible is that? What good does that do to Britain and its economy?
What about the manufacturing industry since we have been in the EU? There was no boast about that. In 1973, 32 per cent of our economy was involved in manufacturing; today it is 14 per cent. So, membership has not done much good for our shipbuilding industry, our car industry and so on. Indeed, our car industry was rescued by the Japanese, not the European Union. The noble Baroness did not mention the cost in hard sterling—not euros—to the economy through our contribution to the European budget.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. He tells us that the British car industry has been saved by the Japanese. He will of course be aware that the Japanese have said many times that they have been able to locate manufacturing here because of our membership of the European Union.
My Lords, that is not the only reason. I do know something about the Japanese car industry. Honda has a great factory in my old constituency and it has provided many jobs. It says that it is not only a question of being near the European market—we have a big market in this country; do not forget that—but that it also values the loyalty and the skill of our people, and, if I might say so, particularly those of my former constituents in Swindon. So that is not the only reason the Japanese bring their factories to this country.
I was talking about our annual contribution to the EU budget. At present, we make a gross contribution of £12 billion, which is £5.5 billion net. By 2013, that amount will have risen to £17 billion gross, which is nearly £7 billion net. So we are paying quite a lot of money to be a member of this club.
Everybody in this House knows my view on the matter—and I think that I have just confirmed it—we should never have got into the Common Market and it would be better for this country if we now got out of the European Union.
Finally, I hope that we are going to have a proper debate on this treaty and that what is said in the House of Commons and here will have an effect. I hope also that the Government and the Opposition will have the guts to say, “We will take the Whips off”. Let Parliament really decide. If it is a Whipped vote, as I have said before, it will not be Parliament that has ratified the treaty, it will be the Government ratifying their own treaty.
I hope that we will have a great debate in the House of Commons and in this House, and that the usual channels will not try to restrict the amount of time we spend on the Bill, as did the Government of the day when the Maastricht treaty came before this House. The usual channels tried to restrict the debate to three days, but, due to the intervention of my good friend the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, we got 11 days. We had a very good informative debate and people in this House learnt a lot about the European Union and the Common Market.
My Lords, I am very grateful to be able to follow the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. He quoted Socrates. Snr Socrates is the current Portuguese chairman of the Employment Affairs Council, which is meeting in Brussels today. He has been speaking in favour of the temporary agency workers directive—a point to which I shall refer later.
The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, also mentioned the 1975 referendum: in or out. That concentrated the mind. It was a different sort of referendum. The noble Lord has said quite openly that he wants to get out. That is not the referendum that everyone else seems to be talking about. That point should be clarified. In 1975, I had the job of writing the TUC pamphlet arguing “Vote no”. Two-thirds of our members voted yes. I remember it rather well. It was largely a compilation of statistics of billions of pounds of loss on the balance of payments, such as the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, has been reciting today. After the result came out, Jack Jones came up to me and said, “I thought I asked you to write a popular pamphlet saying, ‘Vote no’”. “I did, Jack”, I said. “Well, it wasn’t very popular, was it?”, he riposted.
Apart from saying that I thought that there was something a bit fishy about the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, about conservation of fish stocks, I had better get on with some remarks that I prepared earlier.
First, I echo the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, on the work being undertaken in the European Committee and all of its sub-committees. One is reminded of a rather impressive picture if one lists all the sub-committees. I have now had the honour of being on three of them. Sub-Committee A deals with economic affairs and international trade, Sub-Committee B, the internal market, Sub-Committee C, foreign affairs, defence and development policy, Sub-Committee D, environment and agriculture, Sub-Committee E, law and institutions, Sub-Committee F, home affairs, and Sub-Committee G, social policy and consumer affairs. That suggests a number of important facts of life. There is a heavy agenda on each of those items, A to G, seven of them. The noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, will correct me if I am wrong, but I think that about 80 Members of the House are involved. We are second to none in that scrutiny, and I look forward to participating in my own way. I know that others will be looking forward to reading some of the results.
In supporting the treaty, which I do very strongly, I want to take a slightly longer view about public opinion in Britain—in particular, in the labour and trade union movement. I have not missed all of the debate, I have been in my room watching the television and rewriting my speech, so I have heard all of the speeches, but I do not think that public opinion has been analysed very closely.
I begin with the myth that Governments have for decades been misleading us about the path that we were being asked to go down. I have dug out from the Library the White Paper of July 1971, under Ted Heath, on the United Kingdom and European Communities. It states:
“Purposes of the communities ... These, broadly, were the origins of the Communities. Their purposes are set out in their basic documents, notably the Treaty of Rome, by which the major organisation, the EEC, was established. The preamble to the Treaty of Rome lists the basic objectives of the Community. These include the establishment of the foundations of an ever closer union among European peoples”—
your Lordships may or may not agree with that, but it is there in the White Paper—
“the furtherance of economic and social progress by elimination of the barriers which divide Europe, improvement of the living and working conditions of its peoples, progressive abolition of restrictions on international trade and development of the prosperity of associated overseas countries. The second Article of the Treaty affirms that the task of the Community is ‘by setting up a common market and progressively approximating the economic policies of member states, to promote throughout the Community a harmonious development of economic activities, a continuous and balanced expansion, an increase in stability, an accelerated raising of the standard of living, and closer relations of the member states’. These are objectives to which this country can wholeheartedly subscribe”.
I will send all noble Lords who do not recall that quotation a copy of it, as they might find it difficult to get hold of one.
My Lords, that depends on what you mean by essential sovereignty. If we are going to be invaded by Martians, it might be useful to be able to meet them at the cliffs of Dover. It begs the question. None of these fancy debates gets anyone anywhere apart from going round in a circle.
My Lords, with great respect, what about the treaty that set up NATO and collective defence? Do you remember Poland in 1939? It is very hard to swap history notes at this stage of the evening, but it is a ridiculous hypothesis.
The idea that this Government has never said over the decades where we were going is a myth, and to update the story I need to take us to why the TUC and the Labour Party were converted to a pro-Europe position in 1988 after Jacques Delors came to our congress in Bournemouth and after Mrs Thatcher subsequently made a speech at Bruges. Both the TUC and the Labour Party voted by big majorities—ex hypothesi, all the major unions voted—for a positive attitude. That was because of the social dimension and the nature of that concordat, that trade-off, that “concovenant”—to use a currently fashionable word. However, it took the best part of 10 years for the Labour Opposition to campaign with the TUC, and it was the Labour Government’s first act in 1997 to sign the Social Chapter removing the opt-out. That was the main thing on which we campaigned, and certainly Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were fully part of that.
In 1997, we had to deal with the acquis—an accumulation of measures, some of which were introduced through the earlier social dialogue provisions. Some more measures were then introduced. During the 1990s, we had a raft of draft workers’ directives, which were agreed with employers through the Social Chapter procedures. The first related to workers on fixed-term contracts. The CBI forecast a catastrophic fall in employment, but actually employment went up and has been doing very well. The second related to part-time workers. The CBI forecast catastrophic losses of employment, but actually it has been working very well. The third is the subject of current debate and relates to temporary agency workers. It has shot up the agenda, for obvious reasons, very strongly. Today—literally—the CBI has said on cue that, if adopted, it will lose Britain 250,000 workers. I would have been very disappointed if it had not said that. It would make my normal radar set look a bit out of date. But there the CBI is, and I was very pleased to see how predictable it has become, if not too big for its boots.
I am sorry, I thought that my noble friend wanted to say something.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend. I am unused to interventions of that kind. Some people say that the Labour Government must have made a secret concordat with the CBI; that although they signed the social chapter in 1997, they made a secret concordat to soften measures being adopted under it. I do not believe that. I think that this is relevant to the confusion in the Labour Party and public opinion on the message we are giving out about Europe.
We have done a tremendous amount for the quality of the contract of employment and so on. Although there may be something ambiguous about the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, as my noble friend Lord Wedderburn has said, there is nothing unambiguous about the problems in globalised markets of vulnerable migrant and other workers. Today, the British Government are trying to meet CBI demands, as well as trade union demands, on this vital dimension, without which we will not carry trade union and Labour opinion with us. That was the concordat in the 1980s and 1990s, and it remains as vital today.
The paradox is that Government and local party websites and so on parade the measures we have achieved through social Europe. I wrote a pamphlet on this question. The measures are equal pay, protection from discrimination, protection when a business changes hands, equal rights for part-time workers, maternity and paternity rights, equal rights for fixed-term workers, four weeks paid holiday, control of the working week, having a voice at work, European works councils, health and safety, and so on. The Government should parade these measures as an important part of our achievements in Europe. At the moment, there seems to be ambivalence about doing that.
As I understand it, today in Brussels, the Government have not been able to corral the votes sufficiently to kill the temporary agency workers directive. It is an important development in Europe. Whether or not there is a referendum, which I do not think that there will be, in terms of public opinion the treaty has to be seen to consider the support for internationalism which people feel is affecting the security of their working lives. Where will these protections come from? Where are the measures whereby the white working class can feel that it can co-operate with migrant workers, immigrants and so on? We are getting that message clearly from around the country.
In conclusion, surely we must move away from the sub-Churchillian rhetoric of fighting them on the beaches and fighting them in the air; there will be no surrender, with our red lines and fixed bayonets; and they shall not pass. This is a ludicrous characterisation to please bulldog Murdoch, the ridiculous Englishman who is not an Englishman, and who represents, but does not live anywhere near, middle England. The Government seem to have been bewitched by him. Will my noble friend take on board the fact that many of us believe that the Government are in too defensive a mode about the whole European question, particularly how it affects the attitude in the Labour movement? We have much to give to the world in business and the trade unions as leaders of European opinion, which should be communicated to the British people in a positive spirit from 10 Downing Street downwards. That is my message to this debate.
My Lords, we are near the end of the debate, and I pay tribute to the noble Baroness the Lord President, who has sat in her place, almost unmoving, for five hours. I am sure that we all appreciate that.
It has been clear during the debate that there are many views around the Chamber, and that is healthy. A number of noble Lords have put forward the genuine view that they welcome the major steps in this treaty towards achieving an ever-closer union and see that as a positive move forward. I disagree with them, but I respect their views. Like others, however, I have less sympathy with the Government’s position. They simultaneously seem to hold that the treaty is vital for the future of the European Union and yet has no impact on the United Kingdom. In my view, the reform treaty is a bad treaty. Even at this late stage, the Government next week should refuse to sign it, in order to start afresh and negotiate a better treaty. There are two reasons for this. First, the provisions in the treaty create a significant shift of power to the European Union; and, secondly, the cumulative impact of this treaty on top of previous treaties amounts to a fundamental change in the nature of the European Union and our relationship with it.
As to the provisions of the treaty, the Government have sought to focus attention on—some might say, “divert attention from”—the opt-outs that they claim they have negotiated from provisions that even they admit would be damaging if enacted. I do not want to repeat the arguments put forward today as to why those are unlikely to hold, but I was particularly interested in some of the issues that the noble Lord, Lord Lea, raised. We will no doubt come back to many of those during more detailed debates.
The red lines and illusory opt-outs are not the end of the story. My concerns start with the vast majority of the treaty changes which were conceded by the Government within the red lines. Let us be clear: the treaty provides for a substantial increase in the scope of European legislation to impact on UK citizens. Rather than limiting and containing EU legislation within tight boundaries, the treaty’s definition of “shared competences”, a new innovation, gives the European Union unlimited power to extend its directives in each of the 11 areas named, headings that together cover most of the domestic policy agenda. Furthermore, the treaty contains an explicit limitation on the powers of member states by declaring that they can only legislate in areas of shared competence where the European Union has chosen not to exercise its competence. That turns subsidiarity on its head.
On top of that, the European Union is given ill defined powers to co-ordinate policies and to take supporting actions in a range of more sensitive areas, including, as others have said, industry, education, employment and social policy. As the treaty provisions will be, by definition, part of UK law after the treaty is passed, the Government’s protocol on the Charter of Fundamental Rights cannot stop the European Court deciding that related parts of the charter—particularly those parts dealing with social rights—apply to the UK. That creates a fatal hole in the Government’s meaningless opt-out.
Furthermore, the treaty, for the first time, defines majority voting as the normal procedure for legislation; as others have said, more than 60 national vetoes are disappearing. That is not only about streamlining decisions; it includes important areas of national interest such as energy, transport and culture, as well as significant areas of foreign policy, justice and home affairs. Our power to block legislation under QMV will be reduced in 2014 by a reduction in the highest hurdle needed to pass legislation, from 74 per cent of weighted council votes to only 65 per cent of votes weighted by population. The ability of Parliament to block further treaty changes is eroded by the fact that this is, as the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, pointed out, a self-amending treaty that can move to QMV in any area without further ratification by national Parliaments. Finally, the introduction of an exit clause means that, for the first time, any member state that chooses to withdraw will have committed itself by this treaty to face whatever penalties other member states may decide to impose.
As I said in my introduction and as the noble Lords, Lord Waddington and Lord Stoddart, and others have said, it is not enough to look at the treaty in isolation. To understand its impact and intent, one needs to view the incremental changes that have come about through successive treaties. Against that background, the notion that this treaty is the end of the process of ever-closer union, rather than the foundation for the next stage, is simply not credible. The same arguments were used at the time of Maastricht, which was billed as the end of the process because of the incorporation of subsidiarity and because of the UK opt-outs. In reality, looking back, it is clear that the process since then has been more intense than ever. Both Amsterdam and Nice added new competences and further extended QMV, as other noble Lords have said, in a wide range of areas. Justice and home affairs was added at Maastricht as a purely intergovernmental pillar. That was partly eroded at Amsterdam, and at Lisbon, as we have heard, it has been fully subsumed into the EU competences.
It is not just competences that concern me; it is the gradual evolution of the institutional structure of the European Union away from nation states, slowly but surely building and reinforcing the idea of democratic legitimacy exercised independently of the nation state by European-level institutions. At its heart is the concept of European Union citizenship, which was added, I suspect, as a purely rhetorical flourish—by the UK, at least—in the introductory declarations at Maastricht. Now, in this reform treaty, the European Union has put the EU citizen, rather than the nation state, at the centre of its mandate, declaring in Article 8A that the union is founded on representative democracy where citizens are represented directly at Union level in the European Parliament and have rights and responsibilities defined by the Union itself. That direct European mandate is reinforced by the encouragement that the same article gives to the development of European-level political parties and by the responsibility given to the Commission in Article 8B to bypass national Governments and undertake direct dialogue with citizens and representative associations.
With the right to initiate legislation resting firmly with the Commission, the Council, by contrast, has shifted from being the directing mind of the European Union where nation states acted largely by unanimous agreement to becoming merely the second chamber where national representatives meet to cast votes on European legislation predominantly through majority voting procedures. We have also seen the growing role, as others have said, of the European Court. On the other hand, the role of the European Parliament has been elevated in successive treaties so it now has a co-decision-making power that puts it on at least equal terms with nation states in ever more areas, including the election of the Commission president.
As part of that evolution, under this treaty the president of the Council is no longer a rotating head of government, an arrangement that emphasised the primacy of nation states, but becomes a permanent EU official. Crucially, the treaty enables that role to be combined with the role of the head of the Commission. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, said that he thought that was unlikely but, as others have said, the clause in the early draft prohibiting it was deleted, against the UK’s objections. The noble Lord wants to look at people who see where that will go. It will be but a small step, as President Sarkozy and others are already pressing for that powerful head of government role to become a directly elected president claiming his own direct mandate. I can refer to other people who are putting that forward as the way they would like to take things.
Alongside that, the definition of “shared competences”, the incorporation of the charter, the expanded role of the ECJ into justice and home affairs, the scope for the EU to amend its own treaties without reference back to national parliaments—all of these increasingly make the EU an autonomous power that is directing, rather than serving, the nation states. National Parliaments are relegated to the role of waving yellow cards that the Commission, having considered them, can choose to ignore. We are asked to believe that that is a great concession to national Parliaments. I thought that national Parliaments in the past had a role in holding to account Ministers who could go to Europe and say no. Now legislation from Europe bypasses not only Ministers but Parliament, and we are offered the option of waving a yellow card.
The creation of a single legal personality is the final step that allows the European Union to operate as a legitimate Government in its own right, signing and enforcing treaties and agreements on the international stage with its own Foreign Minister, who, according to the treaty, has the right to usurp the place of national representatives at the United Nations on any matter where the European Union has defined a common position. Many noble Lords may greatly welcome that, but it is difficult to deny it. It is not surprising that other continental leaders hail the treaty as preserving all the essential ingredients of the constitution. According to the Spanish Prime Minister, it is more than just a treaty; it is a foundation and a treaty for a new Europe.
This is a fundamentally different European Union from any to which the UK population has signed up. It is not a direction that is sensible for the UK or a direction that the UK electorate supports. On the basis of recent experience, it is simply not credible that the UK can sign up to this onward sweep of European political integration and then preserve the status quo or maintain a separate direction through a few opt-outs. Nor is it true to assert that we have no other option. If the UK were to veto this treaty, we would be in a powerful position to negotiate a different and better relationship for the UK.
My Lords, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, that my personal view is that we should seek what all polling shows is the mainstream view of the British electorate. What it clearly wants is a looser relationship that preserves free trade and the economic prosperity that goes with it and co-operation between Governments but allows the UK properly to opt out of the process of economic and political integration. That is the prize which, if we veto the treaty, we could pursue.
If the Government sign the treaty, they should at least open up an honest debate. When I asked the noble Baroness the Lord President a few weeks ago to set out the differences between the reform treaty and the constitution, she refused to answer. I said then that I could find one article in the constitutional treaty that was not replicated in the reform treaty; I have now found two. If the noble Baroness would like to tell me how many she has found, I would be delighted. The Government cannot expect to be taken seriously when they assert that two nearly identical texts are different just because they have changed the name.
This is a bad treaty; it has been falsely represented; and the Government should reject it. If they do not, I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with my noble friend Lord Leach in agreeing that the House should hold them to their promise to hold a referendum and explain their decision to the people.
My Lords, I shall speak in the gap on the speakers list and will not detain the House long. I arrived in this country in June 1974 and participated in an election for the first time—the 1975 referendum on whether the United Kingdom should stay in Europe. In those six months, I listened to the debates and arguments. Therefore, it is not true to suggest that the public were deceived. The message was very clear. As a newcomer to the country, I knew what I was voting for and voted yes. East Africa’s own economic community had been destroyed by Idi Amin; Uganda would have been much better off in it. So I thought to myself that the European Economic Community would probably be a good thing. It is not true to argue that the public were deceived and did not know what they were doing. It is an insult to the British public to suggest that they do not know about an issue on which they vote. So that is what I did in 1975.
The noble Lord, Lord Watson of Richmond, asked a question that those who oppose ratification of the treaty must answer. I pose the question in my own way, but he asked whether the country could cope with a break-up of the Union and how we would deal with it. I suspect that we would be in a very different place. East Africa never coped with the break-up of that union. While we wanted our sovereignty, we thought that we could always get the union back. However, it is not always easy to do that, and the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Richmond, was not scaremongering. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, put the question even more sharply by looking at the actual benefits for this country and many others in the Union. Those two people, then, were not scaremongering but facing reality. We need to find out what would actually happen to us. Tanzania and Kenya have tried to get that union back, but getting it back is very difficult.
Secondly, may we please stop blaming the EU for all our ills? We are responsible for our economic policy, education, health, security and international affairs. If those policies are not working out, please do not look over the border and blame others; what we are not doing is our own fault, because we are responsible here. May we stop the blame culture? I call it BSE—always blaming someone else, instead of taking responsibility for ourselves.
There is a story that I love of a little man who was standing outside a church, crying his eyes out. Someone came to him and asked, “Why are you crying? Who are you?”. He said, “My name is Satan, and everybody in that church blames me for things that I have not done or even thought about. If they only blamed me for things that I was responsible for, I would stop the crying”. It is easy to look over the waters and to think that them out there are responsible for all kinds of things. Our duty is to be resolute, to hold on to our red lines, to engage and participate, standing together in Europe, otherwise we shall in the end hang separately. So, let us swim together. If our neighbours behave badly, our duty is to draw a big enough circle to include them so that we can transform their lives—in terms of justice, relationships and working together.
We have fostered two children, and when they came into our home it was not easy for the first three years. Their behaviour and attitude was so different, yet over time they have become beloved members of our family. I support the ratification of the treaty.
No, my Lords, for we are in the gap.
First, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, will tell the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, what a treat he has missed. We hope to see him in the debates on this treaty and in the Bill’s Committee stage, which he will surely enrich. After all, this debate has been a bit like those posh restaurants where they let you have a little nibble of the banquet that is to come. We can all look forward to the banquet of seeing this treaty through, sometime in early spring, I suspect. I welcome the constructive tone of the opening speech made by the noble Baroness the Lord President, who has now had my support and the strictures of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. Hers must have been a good speech.
I cannot mention all noble Lords who spoke, but I will refer to the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, suggested a Conservative manifesto commitment to withdraw from the treaty. I do not want to pick at old scabs, but that is not without precedent. In 1983, the Labour Party had a clear, unequivocal manifesto commitment that, if elected, it would withdraw from the European Community; it recorded its worst result since 1918. That 1983 election is also worth remembering because some people who hark back to the 1975 referendum forget that that election was another consultation of the British people, in which they gave just as resounding a result as they did in the referendum, voting two to one in favour. I was delighted to hear that the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York was on the “yes” side then, as he was tonight.
The discussion tonight, as I suspect it will be in those long weeks in the early spring, has been a battle of lists and of judgments. I am not sure whether so many obscure—at least to our ears—European politicians will ever be quoted with such authority again on both sides of the argument. From our point of view, the position is clear. The Liberal Democrats and our predecessor parties have been committed to the European ideal for 50 years with a consistency that I submit has not always been true of the Labour or Conservative parties.
Earlier I promised a clarification of our attitude on referendums. I am highly sceptical of them and hope that this Parliament becomes increasingly sceptical of them. I was involved as a party official in the 1975 referendum. Let me assure your Lordships that the referendum was not held because of any high-minded wish to consult the people. As the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, indicated, it was held as an attempt to keep the Labour Party together. I remember the first time the idea was proposed, at a meeting of the national executive of the Labour Party, by Anthony Wedgwood Benn, as he then was. He could not get a seconder for the proposition of a referendum because the parliamentarians around the table scathingly pointed out that we were a parliamentary democracy and that it was within the sovereignty of Parliament that we made our decisions, with our representatives being responsible to the people through elections. I know that my party is as guilty as others, but I worry about using promises of referendums as a quick fix for avoiding the responsibility that is ours as parliamentarians.
In an article in the Financial Times, Phil Stephens quoted the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, saying in 1975 that,
“referendums … sacrificed parliamentary sovereignty to political expediency”.
She was right then and she is right today. Phil Stephens said in the same article that the Eurosceptics,
“want to win in a referendum the argument that they have lost in parliament”.
I certainly do not want to see us bundled out of Europe by the back door on a referendum ramp organised by the Murdoch press and the Daily Mail.
My Lords, why, if it was such a bad idea, did his party promise one in its manifesto, and why is it now reneging on that promise? The noble Lord may be right about referendums, but surely it is worse to promise the people a referendum and then to renege on it.
My Lords, the whole of this debate has turned on whether that promise referred to this treaty. The noble Lord believes that it applies to this treaty while we on these Benches and the government Benches do not believe that. The noble Lord has been in politics long enough to know that sometimes, just occasionally, you can disagree with something that your party has done. I certainly believe that we are right now to take this as a matter for Parliament.
I have heard all the arguments today. I have to say to the Conservative Party—and I think that it was the noble Lord, Lord Watson, who made the point—that it should listen to the eight or so Conservative contributions and couple that with the long-term commitment to Europe that was expounded from the Conservative Front Bench. Quite frankly, it beggars belief. The Conservative Party still has to go through the rites of passage that the Labour Party went through and get this anti-Europe poison out of its system before it is fit or credible for government. The way in which the Conservative Party has presented its case today is simply not believable or credible.
We shall have a long and thorough debate about this. I hope that those who organise it will, as I understand will happen in the other place, bundle the debate to allow us to have focused discussions on things such as the Social Chapter and the legal commitment so that our deliberations do not get too diffuse. In that way, each party can bring in its experts in these areas and have a thorough debate, as the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, said.
I want to give the Lord President ample time to reply before we finish at 10 o’clock, because I know that we will return to these issues at a later stage. However, as we have been talking about our commitment, I just want to say that our European Union Committee does an extremely good job. I was once in Brussels and someone from one of the other missions said, “When there is a House of Lords Europe report out, there is a scramble from all the other missions to get it”. We look forward to the report in the new year, as it will certainly inform our debate.
As a pro-European, I start from a point in absolute contradiction to what the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, suggested. I believe that the European Community has brought peace and prosperity to Europe, which was the basis on which we fought the 1975 referendum. I liked the description by the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, of the Euro-Glums. Listening to some of them today, you would not think that we were talking about the world’s fifth largest economy enjoying its 15th year of successive economic growth. It is not quite the doom and gloom that has been preached.
More important, I remember when I was in the Foreign Office in the mid-70s when Spain, Greece and Portugal moved to democracy. There was a firm understanding that, unless they stuck to democratic principles and the rule of law, there would be no room for them in the European Community. I know for a fact that that stiffened democracy in those countries then. Anyone who goes to eastern Europe now knows that in Bulgaria, Romania and many others in the former Soviet bloc it is either the promised membership or the present membership of the EU that is underpinning the transformation to democracy in those countries.
As the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, said, we have a lot to be proud of. We will have some quite vigorous debates, but I hope that we can have them with good humour and mutual respect. I have already promised the Government our votes from these Benches, on the basis not of any short-term political calculation but of my party’s 50-year commitment to Europe.
My Lords, it has been an extremely good debate. I note with interest that I am the only woman speaking today. I hope that by the time we get to the legislation, that will not be the case. There have been some predictable speeches and some persuasive speeches: all have been extremely passionate. The prize for being succinct and to the point goes to the most reverend Primate to whom I am most grateful. I get very nervous when people wish to speak in the gap because it extends our debate, but on this occasion I was delighted that the most reverend Primate did so for very obvious reasons.
We returned to some themes that have already become very familiar to me. My particular favourite is what I call the “referendum with quotes” theme. For every quote noble Lords are able to produce in one direction, I can produce a quote in another direction. I can quote President Barroso saying on 11 October—and I say this with feeling:
“Please read the treaty. It is not a constitution. I have been a constitutional lawyer teaching in Geneva and Washington, this is not a constitution, this is another treaty, and by the way a treaty, even as a treaty where Britain negotiated very, very clear opt-outs”.
The Dutch Council of State referred to earlier, but perhaps not given the prominence it deserves, said that,
“the proposed Reform Treaty is substantially different from the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe”.
We could spend a lot of our time, and we no doubt will, discussing different points. My main point is that when we discuss the legislation, I hope that rather than trade quotes from others, we will be able to debate and deliberate on the detail of what is before us, to make sure that we all understand it precisely and can make our decisions accordingly.
Being in your Lordships’ House is a little like listening to a gramophone record. For younger viewers and listeners to the debate, I also mean using the repeat button of an iPod nano. We do, on occasion, refer to things again and again. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, referred to a piece of granite. I was thinking about the granite in my kitchen, which I regard as strong and durable. It is occasionally beautiful; I also have earrings made of granite. I do not necessarily accept that being referred to as granite is something that we should regard as detrimental.
I am still not sure that the noble Lord has answered my question, so I will pose it again. I do not expect him to intervene on me, for I am conscious of time. I pose it so that we can again discuss it when we come towards the Bill. If we believe that Parliament has the role of debating and determining our legislation, and if this Parliament in both Houses decides to support the ratification of the treaty, will the party opposite accept that ratification? That is an important question, and Europe wishes to know the answer, because it is important to be sure that those who believe in Parliament accept the will of Parliament. At some point, we must debate that. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, gave an alternative proposal for a manifesto, which the noble Lord, Lord McNally, referred to. I wait with interest to see whether that is picked up. The noble Lord may indeed be listened to by his colleagues.
The fundamental issue that I failed to understand in our debates—noble Lords will have to forgive me for this—is how, if over four years we have moved from 15 member states to 27, the processes and practices that were applicable to the 15 can possibly be applicable to the 27. Noble Lords on all sides of the House will no doubt be critical of the bureaucracy of Brussels. I spent two and a half years on the Justice Council, where I met many eminent and distinguished people across the European Union, including Ministers, officials and members of the Commission. It was as blindingly obvious to me that we could make things more efficient as it was to them. This is part of that process. We should not take away the need—which is important whatever stance noble Lords wish to take on Europe—to make sure that it runs as efficiently as possible; except perhaps for those noble Lords who would wish us out of the process altogether.
It is important that we look at this in the context of what we are seeking to achieve. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, that I was grateful for his support, but I take a very old-fashioned view of words that we use in your Lordships’ House. The one thing that I do not believe my right honourable friend Mr Blair ever was is cowardly. Noble Lords may disagree fundamentally with what my right honourable friend did, but he did not succumb to cowardice. I hope that we will not return to use those words and a few others I noticed being used tonight in your Lordships’ House.
If there is word across Whitehall on what to do, it has missed me on the way. I cannot add anything to that. Indeed, I have met Mr Stelzer, and I disagree with his analysis both of what is happening in Europe and of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. I will not give him any further publicity, but I have invited him to lunch.
I agree completely with the noble Lord, Lord McNally, in his admiration of the work of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, and of the committee and sub-committees referred to by my noble friend Lord Lea. It is an extraordinary piece of work that is done constantly, and not only for your Lordships’ House. I have heard the same thing as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, when going into Europe, about how much people look forward to the reports from the Select Committees. Noble Lords will know that I am very keen to enhance that and make sure that whatever happens in your Lordships’ House we do not lose the work of the Select Committees, which is very important. I am extremely grateful that the noble Lord will play an invaluable role in the work that we do in the future.
The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, asked about the purpose of the debate. I offered the debate in the Statement that I gave; it was as simple as that. Noble Lords responded that they would like to have the debate, and so here we are. The noble Lord said that he would let off steam, and I believe he did so in his contribution. I hope that he now feels better, but no doubt he will wish to do so again. I was interested in the noble Lord’s reference to the proposition on the ballot paper in 1975. I am wondering how one would frame the proposition that noble Lords have discussed so widely in the context of a referendum. There were several propositions underlying what was discussed, from what you might describe as an in-out proposition to variations and gradations of what would be sought. I am glad that the noble Lord did not suggest leaving what he referred to as “the club”. We believe that we have an amending treaty. It is not the same as the constitution.
Several noble Lords referred to the role of national parliaments. I am very heartened that within the propositions before us there is an enhanced role for national parliaments. Whether noble Lords like yellow cards or orange cards, it is an important new role which I hope we will be able to debate at greater length when we discuss the legislation. My noble friend Lord Tomlinson noted the importance of this change. I agree with him. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, made the same point. I do not believe the interpretation put on this by the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell. We will debate it at greater length, but it is important that in all our deliberations, whether we accept this enhanced role at face value, we are careful to make sure that our Parliament plays the role that we all would wish it to play, both in the ratification process and in the future, and is enabled by the proposal to be able to do more in the context of working within the European Union. Parliament should ensure that legislation is appropriate and that it tackles the largest question of all in the proposals, that of subsidiarity.
Noble Lords referred to the Charter of Fundamental Rights, particularly the noble Lords, Lord Howell, Lord Waddington and Lord Blackwell, who did so in a perhaps less positive way than my noble friends did in the context of a social Europe. We have to be clear that the charter creates no new enforceable rights. The European Court of Justice is an institution that we will debate at greater length during the passage of the legislation and the ratification process, thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, and other noble Lords. It is important to know that it will continue to take account of the charter. It is binding on EU institutions and on member states when they implement European Union law, but the charter protocol guarantees that the charter does not create any greater rights than already apply in EU law. That is the view of the Government, of the Commission and of the legal advice within Europe. So we are confident that we are where we should be in terms of that process.
The president of the European Council was discussed by a number of noble Lords, particularly by the noble Lords, Lord Howell and Lord Waddington. The president will be chosen under the proposal and be responsible to elected national Prime Ministers. Whoever this person is, the president will not be superior to national Prime Ministers. As noble Lords know, the European Council already has a president in the shape of the Minister at the head of the Government of the country that holds the rotating presidency. That applies to all Ministers who work within the EU. Thus, when we held the presidency, the Justice and Home Affairs Council was chaired by British Ministers. I had the privilege of doing so. A six-month rotating presidency is extremely difficult. Put simply, just when you think that you have got to grips with how to do it, the presidency moves on. Consideration of having someone who will perform the function for two and a half years, subject to the will of national Prime Ministers, is an important change. It will be more efficient and cheaper. That is an important aspect which has been raised a number of times by noble Lords, not least by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, in considering money issues.
The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, talked about the double-hatting of the president of the European Council and the president of the Commission. It is fair to say that under Article 213 of the treaty of the European Communities the president of the Commission is excluded from holding another post. It states:
“The members of the commission shall not, during their term of office, engage in any other occupation”.
Open Europe was the first to raise this issue. The Commission has certainly not raised it with us.
The noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, on whose head many have heaped praise for his work, was the first noble Lord who referred to the other aspects of discussion in the European Council. I am grateful to him for that. I was grateful, too, for his welcome of the Government’s work and the production of the pamphlet, Global Europe. I pay tribute to his knowledge and expertise. The noble Lord talked about the ratification of the treaty, a point picked up by the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, and others. The treaty will be laid before Parliament after signature on 13 December. We will introduce a Bill to give effect to the treaty shortly after signature. I quote the Prime Minister from his Statement on 22 October. He said:
“The Government will recommend that there is sufficient time for debate on the Floor of the House so that the Bill is examined in the fullest of detail and all points of view can be heard”.—[Official Report, Commons, 22/10/07; col. 23.]
He said that, once the Bill is approved, the treaty will be ratified. I will discuss the process. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, knows that I dare not tread on to the Chief Whip’s territory, but it is important that we have full debates, and that is certainly the Government’s ambition in relation to this matter.
I agreed very much with the stance taken by the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, over sovereignty. He referred to the importance of understanding the profound sovereignty of nations and said that the enhanced role of Parliaments was an important aspect of that—a point that I have already mentioned. I agree very much with, and am grateful to him for, the analysis that he put forward.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, with whom I agreed almost completely, gave the tour de force of the evening. He touched on a whole range of issues going back to 1950, when he first started to discuss these questions, through to the role of the European Union and, in particular, its relationship with other nations. The noble and learned Lord was the first in the debate to raise the question of our relationship with Russia. He also used the word “partnership” extensively. I very much echo his sentiments on that. My experience of working in Europe as a Minister was certainly that the partnership that one developed with other member states in thinking through difficult and important issues was critical. Thinking about how we operate in the world when working with our colleagues in the other 26 nations is very important. However, I say to the noble and learned Lord that he should not underestimate the beguiling nature of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister; I never do.
The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, was concerned that more power should be given to Parliament and the people. He referred to the gracious Speech and questioned whether we had already begun to erode that power. The truth is that my right honourable friend has already done a huge amount to reach out beyond our party to discuss with other parties and none all kinds of issues concerning our constitution and the work that is going on, whether in counterterrorism or party funding. I hope that the noble Lord will urge his friends, both here and in another place, to work closely with us in areas where we need to build as great a consensus as possible. I loved the idea that it is pantomime season. I cannot tell noble Lords how much fun I had sitting here working out who would be wearing which costumes.
True to form, the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, put forward his proposition in a very straightforward manner. I do not agree with him any more than I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart; none the less, the noble Lord knows I have huge respect for him. He was particularly concerned about fishing quotas and whether that issue would be raised by my honourable friend Jonathan Shaw, the Minister responsible. Noble Lords may recall my honourable friend appearing on the “Today” programme recently, when he spoke of his concern about what is brought in in the catch and the ensuing waste. The issue of total allowable catches—the quota, as I believe it is called—will be discussed at the Council. We will be pressing for the best possible deal for a sustainable fishing industry in the UK and will be looking at the scientific evidence, so I think that the noble Lord can be reassured that the matter will be raised. If he shakes his head because he is not reassured, perhaps I may reassure him further by saying that I shall endeavour to find out what happens and shall ensure that he is informed.
My Lords, I have tried to answer the noble Lord as best as I can. It is better that I leave it for my honourable friend to discuss that directly with the noble Lord, as he is involved in the matter directly.
The question of whether individual nations choose to continue with symbols is for those nations: it is called sovereignty. If a country, as a member of the European Union, wishes to run up the flag of the European Union, so be it. If it wishes to change its anthem, so be it. That is entirely up to individual nations and is nothing to do with this treaty; it is to do with national sovereignty.
I had a sense of the line from the Monty Python film, “What have the Romans ever done for us?”, and was tempted to leap in from time to time with a list. The noble Lord referred to one light. I think that there are a number of lights in our relationships across the globe, and I believe that our relationship with the European Union is very important.
I am not quite old enough to remember “The Glums”, although I often hear my older brother talk about it. I am looking at the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, but I am thinking of my noble friend Lord Harrison, who is sitting behind me. I did not want to turn round because I would have moved away from the microphone, but I am very grateful for his congratulations on the red lines. Noble Lords will know what the red lines are. I do not intend at this late hour to go through them again, but they are very important and we must discuss them in detail when we look at the ratification process. The red line on justice and home affairs is particularly important. I myself was responsible for not opting in to three measures within civil and family justice. It is very important to look at the question of what happens after five years. The opt-in and opt-out process is going to be extremely valuable to the UK, but within the context of co-operation in justice and home affairs.
People have already spoken about the European arrest warrant. There are many examples, such as Schengen-building measures on data sharing and so on, that are critical to our ability to solve serious and organised crime, such as people trafficking, and to tackle issues as important as terrorism. Noble Lords should not underestimate our wish to make sure that we are able to do this.
The noble Lord, Lord Leach, raised three questions, and I shall be very brief. The first was whether this is different from the constitutional treaty. The answer is yes. He asked whether it will bring us closer to the people. Of itself, it is a tiny part of that. I have always believed that it is the practical things that we provide for our citizens that make us better understand the European Union and wish to recognise it. When people can buy goods abroad and find that if the goods do not work they are able to get their money back more quickly; when they are able to study at universities in Germany, France or Portugal or wherever they wish to; when they find that they can go and live easily, buy property and enjoy life in whatever country they wish to; it is then that being part of the Union becomes a practical reality—as well as when they see all the travelling that we will all be able to do now that Eurostar is even faster and comes even closer to where I live.
Is it about being prosperous? As I said before, 57 per cent of British trade is within the European Union. Our exports have gone up by 25 per cent since 2005-06. That is a growing trend. I believe that the Union makes us more prosperous and that it enriches us culturally and in every other way as well.
The noble Lord, Lord Watson of Richmond, talked about testing out propositions. I found some of the propositions mentioned today very testing. As the noble Lord said, it is about managing affairs more effectively. Keeping the project going forward is an important part of this; it is not about standing still. The European Union is a project that should move forward within the context of ensuring that we move to institutional change only when we need to. I have already indicated the importance of doing that after the move from 15 to 27 member states.
The noble Lord, Lord Watson of Richmond, and the most reverend Primate talked about what is at stake. That is a very important debate that needs to underpin our debates on the ratification process.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, talked about the passerelle. Perhaps I may quote the Prime Minister on the passerelle, because not only my noble friend but the noble Lords, Lord Grenfell and Lord Howell, also referred to it. The Prime Minister has made this commitment:
“To ensure that no Government can agree without Parliament’s approval to any change in European rules that could, in any way, alter the constitutional balance of power between Britain and the European Union, we will make a provision in the Bill that any proposal to activate the mechanisms in the treaty that provide for further moves to QMV, but which require unanimity … will have to be subject to a prior vote by this House”.—[Official Report, Commons, 22/10/07; col. 22.]
I can confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, that the Government’s intention is that both Houses of Parliament will have a prior vote on any such passerelle.
My noble friends Lord Watson of Invergowrie and Lord Wedderburn were concerned about the issues of what I have described as social Europe. My noble friend Lord Lea also raised his concerns to make sure that we do a number of things—first, that we promote more effectively what has happened as a consequence of being part of social Europe. I take that point extremely well and will ensure that I am confident in future speeches in outlining the benefits of being part of the European Union in that context.
A very important part and dimension of the European Union is that we tackle exclusion and increase opportunity. That means, as my noble friends would expect me to say, investing in skills and human capital. I have not had to read out from the results of today’s discussions, and my noble friend Lord Lea may know more than I do on the working time directive and agency workers. Our position on those dossiers has not changed. We support the principle of the agency workers directive. We want a text that strikes a balance between protecting workers and not putting their jobs at risk. On working time, we want a solution to the problems caused to the National Health Service, as noble Lords would expect, and the retention of a workable, individual opt-out on working hours. We will strive to make sure that we can achieve that.
I do not agree with my noble friend Lord Watson that UK workers will have second-class rights compared with other member states because of the UK charter opt-out. The charter, as I have already indicated, does not create any new rights, so there is no question of us putting our citizens in that position.
I understand the strength of feeling of the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, and his party affiliations. He and I live in different worlds as to our views on Europe. It is important that we reconnect with people, an important aspect of what the noble Lord said. To move away from Europe in the manner suggested would leave us exposed and isolated in a way that would not be good for us economically, socially, environmentally or in any other way. Too many of the problems we face in this country require solutions way beyond our borders. Collaboration is an important part of what we do. As the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, mentioned in the context of the Commonwealth, it is not either/or, it is both/and. Our relations with NATO, the US, Europe, the Commonwealth and a whole range of countries enhance our opportunities to both trade and be secure in our borders, and ensure that we have opportunities for our citizens. It is both/and, not either/or; it is as simple as that.
I have already indicated to my noble friend Lord Wedderburn the important issues that he mentioned about social Europe. I apologise that the notes that he received were not good enough; I shall endeavour to ensure that they are better than they were. As ever, he spoke with great passion, and great experience from a long and distinguished academic career.
I view the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, as a “What happens if”. The noble Lord mentioned the Danish Justice Ministry, and the work in Denmark. The Danish Justice Ministry published its analysis of the reform treaty on 4 December. The noble Lord will know that the Danish constitution says that if you transfer powers to an international organisation by treaty, you must have a referendum or a five-six majority in parliament. The report says that it is the Justice Minister’s conclusion that, for Denmark, the Lisbon treaty does not transfer new powers to the Union; on this basis, the Justice Ministry concludes that Denmark can ratify the treaty by the normal means that would be expected.
I am nearly at an end. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, accused me of making a eulogy; I took that as a huge compliment, as he would expect. I have already indicated the issues of the Commonwealth versus the European Union. I understand that the noble Lord has heard all about moving to the point where we have the institutions settled for some considerable time. Well, I hope that time will prove us right and, perhaps, the noble Lord wrong for once. Trying to get this to the point where settling how we have an efficient, effective and best value European Union in terms of how we work together—the bureaucracy and so on—is important and not to be underestimated. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has made abundantly clear, he wishes now to move into areas where practical action to solve some of the huge problems we face across Europe and beyond forms the basis of our role and work within the EU. I am sure that my right honourable friend will ensure that that happens. I could spend a long time picking up various points of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. I will not. I am sure that we will have plenty of opportunity to do that.
My noble friend Lord Lea paid tribute to the Select Committee and the sub-committees I have already referred to. I hope that I have answered or made reference to at least some of the points about the social agenda, about which I know my noble friend feels strongly.
The noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, talked about incremental change. He was also very kind about the fact that I have sat here for five and a half hours. I would not have missed it for the world; it is important. The noble Lord was particularly concerned about European Union citizenship and that it might undermine national legitimacy, an issue which I do not think anybody else raised. It has existed, of course, since Maastricht. It is limited and covers only the rights which people hold by virtue of their national citizenship—the treaty is explicit on that point. The rights therein are common sense, and I hope that we will be able to look at that as part of the scrutiny of the legislation.
I end with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, when he said that in 1950 he wrote about active British leadership. I feel that I have been chastened by some of the comments, but hope that, tonight at least, we have had some active British Government leadership on supporting our role in the European Union.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
House adjourned at 10.09 pm.